Cong steps up heat on 'world's biggest scam'

The Congress on Friday kicked up a ruckus over the demand for an investigation into the "biggest scam in the world", ensuring the monsoon session of Parliament ended with an unfinished agenda on the Rafale aircraft deal.

By Sanjay K. Jha
  • Published 11.08.18
Sonia Gandhi along with other Opposition parties' leaders raises slogans during a protest against the Union government over Rafale deal at Parliament House in New Delhi on Friday.

New Delhi: The Congress on Friday kicked up a ruckus over the demand for an investigation into the "biggest scam in the world", ensuring the monsoon session of Parliament ended with an unfinished agenda on the Rafale aircraft deal.

The battle will now shift outside the House with Rahul Gandhi scheduled to address a massive rally in Jaipur on Saturday, where he is expected to question Prime Minister Narendra Modi's integrity in the context of Rafale. He will follow it up with rallies in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Rahul, who was in Raipur on Friday to inaugurate a new party office in Chhattisgarh, described the Rafale deal as "a clear-cut case of corruption".

He alleged blatant violation of rules, citing how the public-sector Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd had been discarded to award the offset contract to a firm belonging to Anil Ambani that had been floated barely a week earlier.

"I asked the defence minister in Parliament, 'Why did you lie to the country?' I got no answer," Rahul said.

"When I asked Modiji, he could not look me in the eye. You must have seen on TV how he was looking in this direction and that. Why? Because the custodian had become a partner."

The Congress's belligerence was evident from morning. The party led a demonstration by Opposition MPs in front of Mahatma Gandhi's statue on the Parliament premises in support of the demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale deal.

With Rahul away in Chhattisgarh, all other senior leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, took part in the demonstration. The participants, including members of the CPI and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, wore black bands and carried placards.

Slogans were chanted against the Prime Minister alleging the loot of public money in the Rafale deal. Placards accused the government of helping Ambani but not the debt-ridden farmers. Senior Congress politicians asserted they intended to make Rafale a major electoral plank.

Later in the Rajya Sabha, leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and his deputy Anand Sharma raised the matter.

"Our repeated demands for a discussion on the Rafale deal were not accepted. We had given notices but the government was not ready. This is the biggest scam in the world," Azad said.

Sharma, speaking amid interruptions by BJP members, demanded a JPC probe.

"There were discussions in Parliament whenever serious allegations were made in the past. Whether it was 2G (spectrum controversy) or CWC (the Commonwealth Games scandals), Parliament debated the issues," Sharma said.

"The decision to purchase Rafale (aircraft) without following due process was the Prime Minister's own, not of the government. We must debate it. There have been JPCs on so many issues in the past. Our demand is that a JPC be constituted on Rafale too."

In the Lok Sabha, the Speaker overruled Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge's efforts to raise the Rafale deal, saying one subject cannot be discussed every day.

Congress members created a ruckus in the well but were not allowed to raise the subject.

The Congress MP from Gurdaspur, Sunil Jhakhar, later dwelt on the Rafale deal during the debate on the bill to amend the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

Holding a paper aeroplane, he reeled out details of the Rafale deal and said: "Does the government fear this deal will go for arbitration one day? It is because this deal itself smacks of total arbitrariness, having sacrificed not only the national interest but, I believe... national security at the altar of appeasing certain businessmen."

He added: "I do not know whether Dassault Aeronautics has opted for any arbitrations to be taken up in Paris. I would like the minister to clarify whether the Rafale deal will be arbitrated in a court in India or (whether) it will go to Hart or Paris."

Jakhar declared the deal would end up in an arbitration court if a JPC didn't look into it.

He said the offset contract might as well be awarded to him if a company without any experience could be chosen.