A French Rafale fighter flies over The English Channel an exercise. (Image for representational purposes only: REUTERS/Eddie Keogh File Photo).
New Delhi, January 2 (IANS): In a slugfest that marked the debate on Rafale deal in the Lok Sabha, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying the entire country is “pointing fingers” at him and demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe to bring out the “truth” but Finance Minister Arun Jaitley accused him of “inventing corruption” and rejected the demand.
The House had an acrimonious discussion and witnessed a face-off between Gandhi and Jaitley, with the Congress levelling allegations of corruption which the Minister dismissed, saying “those whose hands were soaked in corruption” were trying to besmirch the image of a “clean government”.
In a speech that was sought to be drowned by ruling party benches, Gandhi wanted to play a purported recording of a conversation of a Goa Minister on the issue that triggered heated exchanges between the Congress and BJP members in the Lok Sabha.
Jaitley responded to Gandhi’s allegations, saying there was no corruption in the deal for acquiring fighter jets from France and accused the Congress of having a “legacy of scams” like Bofors and AgustaWestland.
“And this (JPC probe) is being sought by those who represent the legacy of Bofors to indulge in another fraud. The reason is, since our hands are soaked in corruption, you are a clean government, let me invent an allegation of corruption against you. This has been the entire burden of their song. Therefore, there can be no JPC at all in this transaction.”
Gandhi, who initiated a debate on the controversial deal, 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 yahan to puri daal hi kali hai’ (I thought there was some wrongdoing, but nothing is right here). We demand JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee). It will bring out the truth. Modiji bypassed processes, contract was snatched from HAL. A JPC (probe) 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 fact is the whole country is pointing fingers at him,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi said a news report had said that in the 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 saying it was not in its jurisdiction, the Congress chief said the apex court 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 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.
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.
In his intervention, Jaitley said there was no need for a JPC since the Supreme Court had already given its verdict on the process, pricing, offset clause and HAL issue after satisfying its conscience. The Supreme Court has the last word, except on matters of Parliament’s jurisdiction.
Taking a dig at the Congress, he said: “The conscience of the Supreme Court was satisfied but the election needs of the Congress were not.”
He took a dig at the Congress, saying that the JPC under the late Shankaranand, which probed the Bofors kickbacks, had whitewashed the allegations of corruption and it was a fraud on the parliamentary process.
“These are not kickbacks. These are winding up charges. The JPC whitewashed the whole allegation of corruption,” Jaitley said, adding: “The JPC was a fraud on the parliamentary process.”
The Congress, which has been demanding constitution of a JPC and staging protests in the House, on Monday suddenly offered to face a debate on the issue on which Jaitley had thrown a challenge to the party.
Jaitley launched a no-holds-barred attack on Gandhi and his family and said one family in the country “whose hands were dipped in corrupt deals” was now raking up the issue of corruption in the Rafale deal, which he said was in the interest of national security and the jets were urgently required by the Air Force to strengthen its fighter squadron.
Needling Gandhi, the Minister said he had to be taught from ABC as he had described an offset partner as the manufacturer of plane.
“I did not expect to see such kind of ignorance from a party that has ruled the country for 60 years.”
Jaitley said the government has got the basic aircraft at least 9 per cent cheaper and weaponised aircraft 20 per cent cheaper than UPA’s agreement.
He justified why HAL was excluded from the deal, saying the demand of the time was swift delivery of aircraft and the HAL required 2.7 times the man-days required by Dassault.
“Keeping in mind the urgent need of the Air Force, we could not have waited. And price would have also increased with more time taken to build aircraft.”
Countering Rahul Gandhi’s charge of a particular company getting offset contracts worth Rs 1.3 lakh crore, the Minister asked how could that be true when the whole deal was of Rs 58,000 crore with offsets amounting to Rs 29,000 crore — distributed among 100-120 suppliers.
Gandhi, in his speech, quoted the Goa Minister as saying that Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had all the files and notings on the 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.”