Rahul Gandhi has stuck to his guns on the Rafale deal amid the euphoria whipped up by the Centre and a section of the media on Wednesday, resurrecting all the questions the Congress leader had asked during Narendra Modi’s first term as Prime Minister.
Rahul tweeted: “Congratulations to IAF for Rafale. Meanwhile, can the Government of India answer: 1. Why each aircraft costs Rs 1670 crore instead of Rs 526 crore? 2. Why 36 aircraft were bought instead of 126? 3. Why was bankrupt Anil given a Rs 30,000 crore contract instead of HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited)?”
As Congress president in the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary election, Rahul had described Rafale deal as a scam, saying that the established defence procurement procedures were violated by the Prime Minister’s Office and the high prices were approved overruling objections.
He had also made a huge issue of the exclusion of HAL from the deal to prefer Anil Ambani who had no experience in this field.
The Congress did not raise the issue after the crushing defeat in the 2019 general election, creating an impression that it had given up on the issue because the people’s verdict was construed as an apparent rejection of the charges levelled against the Prime Minister.
Rahul had made Rafale the centrepiece of his campaign, coining the controversial “chowkidar chor hai” slogan, and repeatedly asserted that Modi’s credibility had been demolished.
The BJP grabbed the occasion of the arrival of the first set of the fighter jets to question the Congress’s bid to stall the deal. The exceptional hype, not seen when fighter jets like MiG 21, Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi had arrived, came laden with inherent messaging about Modi’s commitment to national security. His image as a robust leader impaired by the Chinese intrusion into Ladakh, Modi too asserted that no act was more sacred and important than protection of the nation.
The Congress, however, mustered the courage to iterate that it had nothing against Rafale, an excellent aircraft chosen by the Manmohan Singh government, but corruption in the procurement process cannot be brushed under the carpet.
Party’s communications chief Randeep Surjewala tweeted: “Rafale is welcome in India! Congratulations to brave fighters of Indian Air force. But every patriot must ask today: Why Rs 526 crore Rafale for Rs 1670 crore? Why only 36 instead of 126 fighter jets? Why Make in France instead of Make in india? Why the delay of 4-5 years?”
Asked if the Congress was playing spoilsport on this happy occasion, a leader told The Telegraph: “Why, does the arrival of the aircraft alter the realities? Didn’t the BJP ask questions on Bofors even when it helped win the Kargil War? Have the questions, backed by official records, been answered? Has any investigation taken place? Has any court of law examined the documents? Can anybody say election victory legitimises corruption? In that case, all scams should be forgotten and buried after every five years.”
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who along with former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie raised the matter in a big way and went to the court, tweeted: “As the first Rafale jets land in India 5 years after Modi signed the deal with Dassault, with Ambani in tow, it is time to revisit the corruption in the deal & how our security interest and Make In India were compromised.”
He uploaded the complaint they had submitted to the CBI and asked the people to read it again.
Rahul and Bhushan had alleged that the then CBI chief Alok Verma was removed in a bizarre midnight operation only because he was going to order an inquiry into the Rafale deal.
Former defence minister and Congress veteran A.K. Antony expressed happiness over the arrival of five Rafale jets, saying: “But for the complaints by two top BJP leaders in 2012, the French aircraft would have come to India when Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister.”
Under the UPA deal, 18 aircraft were to come from France and the rest 108 to be built at HAL in Bangalore through technology transfer. Modi changed the deal without prior approval of the Defence Acquisition Committee and the Cabinet Committee on Security to buy 36 aircraft in flyaway condition, ejecting HAL from the deal.