Amid unrelenting Congress offensive against him in the Rafale deal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday hit out at the main opposition party, accusing it of throwing muck, indulging in lies and trying to form an “international alliance” to oust him.
But the Congress kept up the pressure with its chief Rahul Gandhi asking why the price of the fighter jets was not being disclosed and party accused the government of violating the norms in selection of the offset partner.
On its part, the BJP opened another front alleging that there was a nexus between Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra and arms dealer and middleman Sanjay Bhandari due to which the Rafale deal with French firm was cancelled in 2012.
A senior Indian Air Force official also pitched in with support for the deal to purchase 36 fighter jets from France, saying it was better than the previous deal.
Modi, who addressed ‘Karyakarta Mahakumbh’ (workers grand conclave) in Bhopal, echoed BJP’s earlier attack about “design” between the Congress and Pakistan to remove him in the wake of Rafale deal controversy.
Modi accused the Congress of indulging in a slander campaign and said the main opposition party has become so weak that it has to beg small parties to forge alliance in the coming elections.
“What has happened to the 125-year-old Congress? We have decided to fight elections on the issue of development, but they want to fight the election by breaking the society. They want to capture power through mischief. They want to use a handful of people to spread falsehood and a storm of lies to capture power,” he said.
“Best wishes for their new path. But we are following the path of strong organisation,” he said.
Modi said Congress was not succeeding in getting allies and even if they get one, “I don’t see them succeeding”.
“So they are trying to forge an alliance internationally. Now will a foreign country decide who will be the country’s Prime Minister? After losing power, you have lost your balance,” he told the Congress party.
Modi said Congress had left no stone unturned to “abuse” him since he joined politics in 2001 and people have rejected the charges.
“The more muck they (Congress) throw, more lotuses will bloom, in every booth, every block, every village, every city and every corner of the country, he said, adding “if destruction is written in their fate, then there is no need for us to cry.”
Rahul Gandhi, who was in Amethi, continued his attack a day after he had alleged that country’s “chowkidar” (watchman) had committed “chori” (theft) in Rafale deal.
Gandhi questioned Modi’s and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman’s “silence” on the demand for disclosing the price of the fighter jets.
“First, the question is: why did the Defence Minister lie ? Then suddenly you get the price of the aircraft Rs 526 crore versus Rs 1,600 crore. Even other countries have bought Rafale aircraft but not for Rs 1,600 crore,” he said.
Referring to the offset agreement between French manufacturer Dassault and an Indian private firm, Gandhi said for 70 years HAL has been making aircraft while the private firm given the contract had not made any aircraft.
“He (Modi) always says that he wants to be the ‘chowkidar’ of the nation, not the Prime Minister. But he has given away the money belonging to the people of the country to a private firm.”
Congress leader Kapil Sibal, who addressed a press conference at party’s headquarters, said an offset partner can be chosen only with government’s clearance and the Modi government is “lying.”
“On a bare bone text reading of Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2013/2016, it makes amply clear that an offset partner cannot be selected without thorough evaluation and scrutiny by the Defence Minister and the Defence Acquisition Wing of the Ministry,” he said.
He claimed that the contract of 126 jet aircraft was done by the Congress after the same number was demanded by the Air Force.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra alleged that the then government mounted pressure on the French firm Dassault Aviation to give works to Bhandari’s company.
“Bhandari, who has close links with Vadra, formed a company named Offset India Solutions (OIS) in 2008 and he formed a joint venture as he tried to enter into an offset clause in the Rafale fighter jets deal through the back door,” he alleged.
He said Dassault made it clear that they do not want to enter into any kind of deal with the OIS. “And this was the reason why the Rafale deal was then scrapped after years of negotiations as Vadra was not getting the commission out of the deal,” he alleged.
Air Force Deputy Chief Air Marshal R. Nambiar told the media here that the deal for 36 Rafale aircraft by the Modi government was “much better” than the one negotiated earlier for 126 planes, contending that “people are misinformed” about the issue.
“All and all, it was a very good deal, much better than what was obtained in 2008,” the Deputy Chief Air Marshal said.