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Congress Guns For PM Modi, Sitharaman Over Rafale Deal, BJP Targets Rahul Gandhi in Comeback

The Congress indicated that it may give a privilege motion notice against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman for “lying” about the secrecy clause in a 2008 Indo-French pact.

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Updated:July 23, 2018, 10:28 PM IST
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Congress Guns For PM Modi, Sitharaman Over Rafale Deal, BJP Targets Rahul Gandhi in Comeback
India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale jets.
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New Delhi: The Congress and the BJP on Monday engaged in a war of words over the price details of the Rafale fighter jet deal, with both parties accusing each other of misleading the Parliament.

The Congress indicated that it may give a privilege motion notice against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman for “lying” about the secrecy clause in a 2008 Indo-French pact.

Days after Congress president Rahul Gandhi assailed the government in Parliament over the Rafale deal, the party fielded three of its top leaders - former defence minister A K Antony, Anand Sharma and Randeep Surjewala - who demanded the Modi dispensation must reveal the price details of the aircraft.

The leaders also released a copy of the confidential agreement the UPA government had signed with France in January 2008, to drive home the point that it does not restrict India to reveal the price details of the Rafale deal.

The BJP, on the other hand, fielded law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to dismiss the questions raised by the Congress. He called the allegations a "collective singing of falsehood" to defend Rahul Gandhi, who, he said, was "prima facie guilty of breach of privilege for misleading" the Lok Sabha.

Prasad also cited replies made in Parliament by then UPA government on defence purchases and other issues in which its defence minister, first Pranab Mukherjee and then A K Antony, had declined to share price details and other information on the ground of national security.

The UPA government's stand was right, Prasad said as he accused Gandhi of trying to wreak havoc on India's security for his political considerations. "The stand of the Congress on the Rafale deal is clearly not in the interest of the country," he told reporters and took a dig at Gandhi, saying that he should do his homework and try to be more responsible at a time his party is seeking to project him as its prime ministerial candidate.

In his address during the debate on the no-confidence motion against the government on Friday, Gandhi had said that French President Emmanuel Macron had told him during a meeting here earlier this year that there was no secrecy pact that restricts India from revealing price details of Rafale aircraft.

In Monday's press conference, Antony said the government's claim that a secrecy clause in the pact was forcing it to not reveal price details of the deal was "totally wrong".

They have to reveal price details of each aircraft, said Antony, adding that the more they are trying to hide, the more suspicion there is about the deal. Antony also said the government cannot hide the price details of the Rafale jets as the deal has to be scrutinised by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) as well as Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

His colleagues Anand Sharma and Surjewala said the government owes Parliament an explanation on why Modi and Sitharaman "misled" the nation on the price issue.

Asked if the Congress would give a notice of privilege motion against the PM and the defence minister, Surjewala said, "The issue pertains to the Lok Sabha and the leader of the Congress parliamentary party will take a decision on the issue soon."

Hitting back, Prasad said that the allegation levelled by the opposition party was "baseless, mischievous and also irresponsible".

The Congress has been demanding that the government share details of the Rafale fighter aircraft price as it accused the Modi government of buying them at a much higher price than it was originally negotiated.

Prasad said the base price of each aircraft negotiated by the government with France is at 91.75 million Euro, nine per cent less than the 100.85 million Euro the UPA government had decided upon.

The government has been forthcoming in declaring the aircraft's price but details of the operationally sensitive matter, including India specific enhancement and logistics support package, would end up disclosing the vital information about the Indian Air Force's strength, the minister said.

"As these sensitive matters overlap the price details, the previous government (UPA) on many earlier occasions did not disclose them on the floor of the House in public interest. This includes import of weapons from the USA and imports of defence items and missiles from Israel," he said.

The BJP leader claimed that Congress leaders like former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Antony may understand the sensitivity involved with the deal but were "forced" to demand that the NDA government share details of the fighter aircraft, to defend Gandhi.

"Dynastic parties are always a crowd around a family. That is true of the Congress. Since a member of the family has resorted to falsehood, the crowd around the family has no option but to collectively sing the tune of falsehood. This is what has happened today," he said.

Prasad said this might have happened for the first in the world, not the least in India, that a foreign government denied a statement made on a domestic issue in Parliament.

Following Gandhi's claim in the Lok Sabha that the French president had told him that there is no secrecy pact on the Rafale deal pricing with India, the French Embassy had said in a statement that a security agreement it concluded with India in 2008 legally binds the two countries to protect the classified information relating to operational capabilities of defence equipment.
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