On the first working day of 2019, the Lok Sabha on Wednesday witnessed an intense battle between Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley over the Rafale fighter aircraft deal.
Mr. Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “hiding in his room as he doesn’t have the guts to confront questions” and repeated his party’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the Rafale deal.
At a press conference later, Mr. Gandhi dared Prime Minister Modi for a one-on-one debate on the facts of the Rafale deal and claimed that the Finance Minister by stating the size of the deal to be ₹58,000 crore has already indicated their price. “If you divide ₹58,000 by 36 planes, you get ₹1600 crore [₹1611.11 crore],” he told reporters. BJP ally Shiv Sena embarrassed the government in joining the Opposition ranks in demanding a JPC to probe the deal.
Rejecting the demand for a JPC probe, the Finance Minister accused Mr. Gandhi of ‘peddling repeated lies’ and claimed that the Congress chief didn’t understand the basics of a combat aircraft.
He quoted the Supreme Court judgment to argue that even though the “conscience” of the court was satisfied it did not satisfy the Congress party’s election necessity.
High drama in Lok Sabha
Mr. Jaitley raised the Congress’s record in defence deals, including the role of Mr. Q and alleged revelations by Christian Michel who took the name of “Mrs Gandhi” in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal.
And while the Opposition and Treasury benches faced off, the Lok Sabha witnessed unprecedented scenes of AIADMK MPs climbing and standing on a front row seat with placards and Congress MPs flying paper planes while Mr. Jaitley was speaking.
There were also some dramatic moments as Congress president Rahul Gandhi sought Speaker Sumitra Mahajan’s permission to play out a controversial audio clip of a Goa minister who claimed that Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had all the files on the Rafale deal with him. While the Speaker denied permission, Mr. Jaitley accused the Congress of “manufacturing the audio clip.”
Apart from the Congress, others in the Opposition including the Trinamool Congress, CPI (M), NCP and Biju Janata Dal too raised questions on the deal and asked for a closer examination of the facts by Parliament.
Opening the debate, Mr. Gandhi countered Mr. Modi’s claim, in an interview to news agency ANI that there were no personal allegations against him in the Rafale deal. The Congress chief said the “whole country” was pointing direct questions at Mr. Modi.
Where are the planes?
Posing a series of questions, Mr. Gandhi asked why did the Modi government change UPA’s order of 126 planes to 36 planes, did the Indian Air Force ask them to do so and if it was because of urgency, why not a single Rafale jet has landed in India until now.
“He (Modi) spoke for 90 minutes in a staged interview but still did not answer questions on the Rafale issue,” the Congress chief said and reiterated his demand for a JPC.
He said Defence Ministry officials had objected to the inflated price of ₹1,600 per aircraft that went up from UPA’s ₹526 crore and only a JPC can find the truth as the Supreme Court lacked the jurisdiction.
“We demand a JPC probe into the matter. There is no reason for BJP leaders to feel afraid. The country will get to know that Modi put ₹30,000 crore in the pockets of ‘double A.’ The contract was snatched from HAL (a government-run unit),” Mr. Gandhi said.
He alleged that the deal favoured industrialist Anil Ambani, whom he referred to as double A after the Speaker asked not to name a person who is not a Lok Sabha member.
The Finance Minister countered that under the renegotiated deal, the fully loaded aircraft was 20% cheaper than what the UPA had agreed, accused Mr. Gandhi of manufacturing lies, someone who has a natural dislike for the truth and and a person doesn’t know the meaning of being an offset partner.
The Finance Minister also said that the Gandhi family understood the “arithmetic of money commerce but not the arithmetic of national security.” He said the Congress decided to "manufacture" a lie to defame the Modi government which has a clean record because Congress’s hands are soaked in corruption.
"Remember the JPC on Bofors ... it said the kickback were winding up charges ... it whitewashed corruption,"Mr Jaitley said and added that the JPC is a partisan body that cannot investigate fairly.
The Finance Minister noted that the price of 'bare aircraft' has been revealed and that the price of 'weaponised' version cannot be told as it would help India's adversaries.
“It is a tragedy that the grand old party which was headed by the legends in the past is now headed by a gentleman who doesn't have basic understanding of combat aircraft,”Mr Jaitley said.
In one of his sharpest attacks, Mr Jaitley said "conspirators" of past defence scams are now raising fingers at the Modi government despite a Supreme Court clean chit.
"There are some people who have a natural dislike for truth. Every word spoken for the last six months on this subject, including in this House (by them) are false....He has a legacy of speaking falsehood,"Mr Jaitley said.
Later, at a press conference, Mr Gandhi pointed that Mr Jaitley had already done by quoting the size of the 36-plane deal to be Rs 58,000 crores ansd asserted that the Supreme Court ordere didn’t prevent an investigation.