Sitharaman’s France visit, a ‘cover-up’ by Modi govt: Rahul on Rafale

New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi said on Thursday said that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s current visit to France was an attempt by the Narendra Modi-led government to “cover up” the alleged Rafale scam.

Addressing a press briefing over the issue, the Congress chief alleged, “Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s trip to France is part of the government’s “cover-up” on Rafale. Why has Defence Minister suddenly rushed to France to Rafale’s plant? What is the emergency?”

According to media reports, Sitharaman is likely to take stock of the progress in the supply process of Rafale fighter jets by Dassault to the Indian Air Force (IAF). There are also speculations that she is likely to visit the facility where the jets are being manufactured.

Intensifying his attack on the ruling government, Gandhi reiterated that there is a clear cut case of corruption against the Prime Minister of India.

The Congress chief reiterated his earlier statement about Reliance Defence being deliberately chosen by the government as the Offset partner for the deal. “Prime Minister gave the Rafale deal to Anil Ambani to save his (Anil Ambani) business,” he said.

“Earlier, former French president revealed that Indian Prime Minister had told them that Reliance should get a deal. Now a senior official of Dassault has said the same. It is a clear-cut case of corruption against Prime Minister of India. Both the official and ex-president of France have said clear cut that the Indian Prime Minister gave Rs 30, 000 crores “compensation” to Anil Ambani. Rafale Company’s senior executive has clearly stated that choosing Anil Ambani’s company was a compensation for the purchase of Rafale.”

Gandhi added that Dassault Aviation, the makers of the Rafale fighters, will say what the Indian government wants them to say. “Dassault is sitting on a huge contract. Dassault will say what the Indian government wants them to say. Their internal document clearly stated that Prime Minister has said that without this compensation the deal will not be done,” he added.

Gandhi also termed Prime Minister Modi as a “corrupt man”.

“I would like to clearly tell the youth of the country that the Prime Minister of India is a corrupt man,” he stated.

Asserting his claim, the Congress president said, “Even the former French President has stated that the Prime Minister of India is corrupt. The media that is questioning is being suppressed.” He also criticised the Prime Minister for being silent over the raging controversy.

After a French media report cited a Dassault executive as saying that the joint venture with Reliance Defence was “imperative and mandatory” for the deal, the company clarified that it had “freely chosen” India’s Reliance Group for a partnership to set up joint-venture Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL) for manufacturing parts of the Rafale aircraft and Falcon 2000 business jets.

In a statement, Dassault further confirmed that “it has sold 36 Rafale aircraft to India within the framework of the September 2016 Inter-Government Agreement between France and India”.

The Rafale controversy took a new twist after former French president Francois Hollande claimed that the Indian government proposed Reliance Defence’s name as the offset partner for Dassault Aviation. However, he later backtracked and said only Dassault could comment on the partnership.

The Congress has been accusing the Centre of irregularities in the high-profile Defence fighter jets contract, alleging that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.