Rafale Minister must resign: Rahul Gandhi attacks Sitharaman over jet deal

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Amidst a continuing war-of-words between the Centre and the Opposition on the Rafale jet deal, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday launched a scathing attack on Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman demanding her to quit.
He said, “The RM (Rafale Minister) tasked with defending corruption has been caught lying again”, adding that “the former HAL Chief, T S Raju had nailed her lie, that HAL didn’t have the capability to build the Rafale”.
The minister’s position is untenable and she must resign, he said.
The Congress had earlier on Wednesday submitted a detailed memorandum to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) highlighting alleged irregularities in India’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
A Congress delegation, including former Union Minister Anand Sharma, met CAG Rajiv Mehrishi to submit enclosures to substantiate their claim that the deal caused a loss to the public exchequer, benefitted “crony capitalists” and endangered national security. The delegation requested the CAG to launch a probe into the alleged scam.
In its memorandum, the Congress told the CAG that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government is “unforgivably guilty of compromising ‘National Interest’ and ‘National Security’”.
The party said that people have “grave apprehensions” about the “suddenly shelved” deal mired by a “shoddy cover-up, self-defeating assertions, and deliberate lies”.
“Modi Government remains opaque, intransient, obscure and obstinate to cover up the Rafale scam,” alleged the Congress.
The Congress said that the 2012 deal inked during the UPA rule placed the per-unit cost of the fighter jet to Rs 527 crore. Presenting all the details of the deal, the memorandum pointed out that France was to supply 18 of the 126 aircraft in ‘fly away condition’. The remaining 108 aircraft were to be manufactured in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) with the transfer of technology.
“In addition, there was a 50% offset clause requiring the Dassault Aviation to invest 50% of the sale price by way of investment in India,” the memorandum read.
Referring to an announcement by the then Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar on 8 April 2015 delivered during PM Modi’s visit to France, the Congress said that the PMO was not to be involved in the defence purchase with France.
“But PM Modi announced on 10 April 2015, two days later, the decision to purchase 36 Rafale off the shelf,” the memorandum read.
The Congress said that even the joint statement issued by India and France during the PM’s visit had stated that the 36 Rafale would be cheaper and the configuration will be the same “as was tested and approved by the IAF”.
“That clear and emphatic affirmation in the joint statement nails the falsehood that has been spread since then – namely, that the price per aircraft is so much higher because of some novel ‘India specific enhancements’ in the 36 Rafales now contracted,” read the memorandum.
The Congress also accused the PM of violating the mandatory ‘Defence Procurement Procedure’ while announcing the Rafale deal on 10 April 2015.
Congress also said that the biggest body blow was dealt on HAL as “they were by-passed without any reason or justification for the execution of the ‘offset contract’ worth over Rs 30,000 crore”.
The memorandum also questioned the rewarding of the same offset contract to Reliance Defence Limited. Citing French President Emmanuel Macron and the UPA government’s disclosure of French Mirage aircraft and the Sukhoi aircraft on the floor of the Parliament, the Congress also challenged the government’s claim that a ‘secrecy clause’ prevents it from revealing details of the deal.
The move is being seen as an effort by the party to raise the pitch over the issue ahead of the Assembly polls later this year and the parliamentary elections in 2019.

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