Congress claims 'vindication', seeks probe into Rafale deal
The Congress on Saturday claimed vindication and repeated its demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the Rafale deal after reports said France had ordered an investigation into alleged corruption in the deal following new revelations.
The reported revelations suggest that Dassault, the maker of the Rafale fighter jets, had entered into an agreement with Anil Ambani’s Reliance to exploit the Indian group’s purported political influence, the Congress said.
A demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe had marked the Congress’s 2019 election campaign when it accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of violating laid-down procedures to favour Reliance.
Rahul Gandhi, who had coined the poll slogan “Chowkidar chor hai (The watchman is a thief)” in a frontal attack on Modi’s image, has now tweeted: “Chor ki dadhi…”
चोर की दाढ़ी…#RafaleScam— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) July 3, 2021
A Hindi saying that goes “Chor ki dadhi me tinka” implies that a thief eventually betrays himself.
Lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, who had petitioned the Supreme Court along with former BJP politicians Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie seeking an inquiry into the fighter jet deal, too laid great emphasis on the new revelations.
He argued that the report by the French news portal Mediapart corroborated the trio’s contention of wrongdoing by the Modi government.
Then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had refused to order an investigation into the deal.
Although BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra dismissed the latest development saying an investigation did not mean the establishment of wrongdoing, the Modi government cannot ignore the possible ramifications of an offshore probe.
The purported revelation that Anil Ambani’s Reliance had signed an agreement with Dassault relating to 36 aircraft before Modi announced the deal to purchase them in 2015 implies the Indian company had advance knowledge of the pact.
“The scandalous expose of Rafale scam involving massive corruption, treason and loss to public exchequer has finally been uncovered. The Congress and Rahul Gandhi stand vindicated today,” Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala said at a news conference.
“On June 14, 2021, the French public prosecution services, PNF, ordered an investigation into the Rafale papers for corruption, influence-peddling, money-laundering, favouritism on the complaint of the French anti-corruption NGO, Sherpa.”
Mediapart said the investigation would cover questions surrounding the actions of former French President François Hollande, who was in office when the Rafale deal was signed, current French President Emmanuel Macron who was at that time Hollande’s economy and finance minister, and the then defence minister and now foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, as well as the role of Reliance Infrastructure Limited.
Surjewala said: “The French news website has also released details of the agreement inked between Reliance Infra and Dassault Aviation to constitute a joint venture company called Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL), which substantiates the statement of Hollande that the decision to appoint Reliance as Dassault’s industrial partner was that of the Modi government and that France had no choice in the matter.”
He added: “Reliance owned 51 per cent and Dassault owned 49 per cent in the joint venture. Reliance and Dassault agreed to a maximum investment of 169 million euros but Dassault pledged to provide 159 million euros, that is, 94 per cent of the total maximum investment. Reliance with 51 per cent stake in DRAL was to bring only 10 million euros.”
The agreement shared by Mediapart suggested that Reliance had no technical knowhow but was supposed to provide production facilities and “marketing for programme and services with the GOI (Government of India)”.
Surjewala interpreted this as a reference to the purported political influence Reliance enjoyed with the Modi government.
Surjewala said: “On March 25, 2015, Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation, in presence of the Chief of the Indian Air Force and Chairman of HAL, said in Bangalore that Dassault and HAL were in agreement in accordance with the RFP (request for proposal) signed by them.
“Intriguingly, on March 26, 2015, Reliance and Dassault signed an MoU. This was just 15 days before the unilateral announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (on the) purchase (of) 36 Rafale jets for 7.8 billion euros without transfer of technology and bypassing the Congress-UPA global tender to purchase 126 aircraft.”
Surjewala said Dassault had deleted the anti-corruption clause and Modi had approved it later.
“It is important to remember that the Defence Procurement Procedure contains mandatory anti-corruption clauses, which disallow bribery, gifts, influence, commissions, middlemen. The facts now clearly call for a thorough JPC probe because this is the only instrument that can call all witnesses, summon all government files, and grill even the Prime Minister and defence officials.”