New Delhi, Jan 2 (IANS) Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday stepped up his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Rafale deal, saying the entire country was “pointing fingers” at him and demanded that a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) must probe the deal to bring out the truth.
In a speech that was marked by shouting from ruling party benches, Gandhi sought to play a purported recording of a conversation of a Goa Minister on the issue that triggered heated exchanges between Congress and BJP members in the Lok Sabha.
Initiating a debate on the controversial deal for acquiring fighter jets from France, he attacked Modi on the “process, pricing and patronage” and said “there are many holes in the Rafale story”.
“I thought `daal me kuch kala hai but puri daal hi kali hai’ (I thought there was some wrongdoing but nothing is right). We demand JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee). It will bring out the truth. Modiji bypased processes, contract was snatched from HAL. A JPC is needed,” he said.
Gandhi was seeking to dismiss Modi’s statement in a television interview on Tuesday in which he said the allegations in the Rafale deal were not directed at him personally but was against the government.
“He (Modi) was looking tired, nervous (in the interview). He said no one has pointed fingers at me but the whole country is pointing fingers at him,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi said a news report had said that that in Defence Ministry’s file notings, it had been stated that “PM Modi shouldn’t interfere in Rafale deal’s negotiation”.
“Modi must also answer on this,” he said.
Gandhi accused Modi of bypassing procedures to award an offset contract to a private entity after agreeing to a three-time hike in the price per aircraft and reducing the number of planes to be bought.
Referring to the Supreme Court verdict which rejected pleas seeking a probe into the Rafale deal and said the apex court had said a probe was not in its jurisdiction and had not said that there should not be a JPC or a parliamentary probe.
Pandemonium broke out when Gandhi took out his mobile phone and wanted to play the recorded conversation of a Goa minister amidst stiff opposition from the ruling benches, including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley who alleged that after concocting French President Emmanuel Macron on the issue of price, Gandhi was now trying to play a conversation which he knew was false.
As shouting continued, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan asked Gandhi to authenticate the purported conversation and sternly told him not to play any recording.
“They are so afraid. I will not play the tape and if it pleases you but…,” he said adding he would read from the taped conversation.
Jaitley interjected to say that Gandhi knew it was false and was refusing to authenticate it.
“You know it is false,” Jaitley told Gandhi. “Because he knows it is false… he lies repeatedly.” The Minister also referred to Gandhi’s statement on Macron and said it too was false and fabricated.
The Speaker adjourned the House briefly as the two sides were locked in heated exchanges.
Resuming his speech, Gandhi quoted the Goa minister as saying that Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has all the files and notings on Rafale deal.
“Goa CM has said that I have Rafale files at my home. It has been authenticated by a cabinet minister in Goa who belongs to the BJP,” he said.
Pointing to Modi’s absence from the House, Gandhi said: “PM is hiding behind AIADMK MPs. He is hiding in his room.”
Gandhi said the Indian Air Force (IAF) wanted 126 fighter jets but the Modi government agreed to purchase only 36 planes from France.
“Who changed the requirement of Air Force from 126 to 36 in the new deal? The excuse given to purchase 36 aircraft was that they were needed urgently. Why has not a single aircraft landed on our soil till now?” he asked.
Gandhi alleged that the “entire procedure was bypassed” and the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had said he had “no idea” about the new deal.
He said the UPA had negotiated price of Rs 526 crore per aircraft and was to procure 126 fighter jets but when Modi went to France and met then French President Francois Hollande, a new deal was done and the price went up to Rs 1,600 crore per aircraft.
“Why did the price go from Rs 526 crore to Rs 1,600 crore?”
He alleged that Hollande had stated that contract was taken away from HAL and the offsets contract was given to a private entity at the behest of Modi.
“Is it a fact that the new price was objected to by Defence Ministry officials? Is there a objection to the new price?”
He said HAL had been making aircraft for the past 70 years and had vast experience in making combat jets also.
“HAL has tremendous record, it is the future of aviation in the country and gives thousands of jobs. Why was the contract taken away from HAL,” he asked.
He alleged that Modi put Rs 30,000 crore in the pocket of an individual and claimed that the private entity had brought land from money given by Dassault Aviation, the maker of Rafale fighter jet.
The Congress leader said that French President Emmanuel Macron had told him that pricing of aircraft can be disclosed.
He said Modi, during an earlier 90-minute speech in the Lok Sabha, had touched Rafale only for five minutes and not answered questions posed to him.