The BJP and Congress traded charges on Tuesday, a day after fresh revelations by French investigative portal Mediapart indicated that kickbacks of at least €7.5 million were paid in the Rafale deal between 2007 and 2012.
The Congress accused the Narendra Modi government of a “cover up” in the scam and shying away from registering an FIR even 36 months after evidence emerged on middleman Sushen Gupta’s role in the deal.
The BJP on the other hand said the Indian National Congress should be renamed “I Need Commission” and alleged that the failed negotiations for the aircraft, when the Congress was in power, was because of the latter’s dissatisfaction with the “cut”.
At a presser, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera, said the government is busy “burying the black melting pot of corruption, kickbacks and collusion”.
And in doing so, it has undermined national security, jeopardised the interests of the armed forces and caused a loss of ₹41,000 crore to the exchequer, he alleged.
“The corruption can be tracked to PM Modi’s own doorstep,” he said. The evidence in this case, he added, had first came up on October 4, 2018, when two former Union Ministers of BJP — Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha — submitted a file to then CBI Director Alok Verma. On October 11 the Attorney General of Mauritius also sent documents about the middleman Sushen Gupta.
However, at a press conference at the BJP headquarters, spokesperson Sambit Patra accused the Congress, especially Rahul Gandhi who has been alleging corruption in the purchase of the fighter aircraft by the Modi government, of spreading “canard, disinformation and lies”.
Mr. Patra also sought Mr. Gandhi's response to the fresh revelations by Mediapart, according to whose investigation, Dassault Aviation paid the kickbacks to the intermediary in Mauritius between 2007 and 2012 putting it in the time frame when the Congress-led UPA was in power.
Mr. Patra alleged that it was clearly the dissatisfaction of the Congress and the Gandhi family that was the main reason behind the negotiations falling through during the UPA government.
“The Mediapart story says that ‘corruption, influence-peddling and favouritism’ marked the deal during the UPA government,” he noted and said, “It will not be an exaggeration to say that the INC be renamed as 'I Need Commission'. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Robert Vadra , all say that I need commission,” Mr. Patra alleged.
Mr. Khera alleged that instead of following the money trail, Mr. Verma was removed in middle of the night and a raid conducted at the CBI headquarters. “This was part of the concerted conspiracy to bury the Rafale ghost,” he said.
Mr. Khera pointed out that on March 26, 2019, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided Mr. Gupta in connection with another case. “Is it not correct that the ED recovered a horde of top secret Defence Ministry documents from Mr. Gupta,” he asked.
The documents, he claimed, included the ‘benchmark price document’ of August 10, 2015, the ‘record of discussions’ by the INT of the Defence Ministry, the ‘excel sheet of calculations made by Defence Ministry’ and ‘Eurofighter’s counter offer of 20% discount to Government of India'.
Mr. Khera alleged that a note of June 24, 2014, sent to Dassault by Mr. Gupta, offering a meeting with “the political high command” was also recovered and asked if such a meeting had taken place with the “high command” in the Modi government.
“This is nothing short of endangering national security, sedition and a gross violation of Official's Secrets Act,” he alleged.
“Why did the ED not pursue these evidences further to investigate the scam? Why did the Modi government then not take action against Dassault, the political executive or the defence ministry officers who leaked the documents? Which 'Chowkidar' sold India's national secrets,” Mr. Khera asked.
The Congress leader also alleged that on Prime Minister Modi’s directions the anti-corruption clauses — “no bribery, no gift, no influence, no commission, no middlemen” — was removed.
"Were the anti-corruption clauses deleted to escape responsibility from bribery and commission to be paid in the Rafale deal? Why was the deletion of anti-corruption clauses approved by the prime minister and the Modi government in September 2016, despite the defence ministry's insistence upon including it in the inter-governmental agreement in July 2015," Mr. Khera asked.
‘Deal within deal’
The UPA government had a deal within every deal, Mr. Patra said. The Congress has in past said the allegations of corruption by the BJP against its ruling family and its members were driven by vendetta.
Mr. Patra also said the alleged middleman Sushen Mohan Gupta, whose name has cropped up in the Rafale case, was also accused of pocketing commission in the purchase of VVIP choppers. “This is too much of a coincidence, and too much of a coincidence is always a conspiracy,“ he said.
The Supreme Court and the CAG have already gone into the contents of the Rafale deal signed by the Modi government and found nothing wrong in it, Mr. Patra said.
He said Mr. Gandhi had made the alleged corruption in the purchase a big election issue during the 2019 polls but it failed to make any impact. The BJP retained power with a bigger majority, he added.