NEW DELHI: In a very critical move of the government, two former ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha today hit out at the Rs. 58,000 crore deal with France for 36 Rafale fighter jets signed in the year 2016, calling the deal “a textbook case of criminal misconduct” and demanding for an immediate forensic audit of the entire deal by the government’s top auditor. Along with lawyer and Swaraj Abhiyan leader Prashant Bhushan, the three said Rafale is “not an ordinary scandal” and was bigger than any that India has seen.
“I can tell you as a person who handled the matter in regard to Bofors… that Bofors was absolutely nothing compared to this,” Arun Shourie said, while referring to the 1986 Bofors Howitzer gun deal that hit back in the Congress’s face and cost then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi a chance to return to power in the next 1989 general election. Mr Shourie was a journalist at that time before he joined the BJP and is seen to have led the reportage on the Bofors case.
The attack on the Rafale – fighter jet deal comes after a series of statements made by Congress president Rahul Gandhi who has said that the government is trying to block all attempts in the media to independently report what the Congress calls a total scam.
Mr Gandhi scaled up the attack on Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in parliament in the last sesson of last month, accusing her of lying to the whole nations when she contended a secrecy pact didn’t allow the government to put out details of the deal. The charge was forcefully rebutted by the minister, who called it as “absolutely wrong”. “It was agreement of secrecy,” she said in her strident rebuttal that also quoted the French President Emmanuel Macron’s interviews to two media organisations.
Prashant Bhushan said the government was trying to hide behind the secrecy clause because “they know as soon as they put the papers on the table, the game will be up”.
Another key allegation that was reiterated on at Wednesday’s briefing was that there was a crony capitalist arrangement that ensured that Anil Ambani’s Rafale Defence was definitely awarded the offset contract for the deal. According to this, Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the fighter jets, would require to manufacture aerospace components worth Rs. 30,000 crores in India.
It is this involvement of the private company that is at the heart of the opposition allegation that the fighter jets bought by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government were more than the price. The government has repeatedly said it was not at all for the centre to take decision to select one company over another and Dassault was free to pick anyone.
Rajesh Dhingra, chief executive officer of Reliance Defence and Aerospace, commented over the issue of effort to link Dassault’s decision to select his company over the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd “a deliberate attempt to mislead”.
“The defence ministry has no role in selection of Indian partners by foreign vendors. This has been position right from 2005 when offsets were first introduced. In more than 50 offset contracts signed till date, the same process has been followed. Therefore, it is a deliberate attempt to mislead,” Mr Dhingra said.
Despite all those allegations and several counter-arguments, the opposition, particularly the Congress party, is determined to not back down ahead of next year’s general elections and intends to turn it into a great key election agenda.
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