‘I’m a buyer, so I would go and see’: Sitharaman responds to Rahul’s questions on ‘#GreatRafaleCoverUp’

New Delhi: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who is on a three-day visit to France, denied Congress’ allegations that she has visited the European nation as a cover-up exercise and stressed that the government in no way selected Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as a joint venture partner in the Rafale deal.

It was choice of the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), in this case, Dassault, whom they want as their offset partner, Sitharaman said.

‘I’m a buyer, so I would definitely go and see’

“It is a government to government agreement between the French and Indian governments and there is no name mentioned and this offset obligation maybe mandatory, but the names of the company are not mandatory for me,” the minister was quoted as saying in a media report.

“As for the visit to Dassault, it is an invitation and also I’m a buyer, so I would definitely go and see,” added Sitharaman, who is expected to visit the Dassault unit where Rafale fighter jets are being manufactured for India.

Congress’ attack on ‘trade-off’

The Congress’ attack escalated after the French investigative journal Mediapart on Thursday – in a fresh revelation – alleged that the alliance with Anil Ambani’s Reliance had been presented as a “trade-off” for the 36 jet deal to the aviation company to obtain the contract for the sale of Rafale jets and enter the Indian market.

Lending support to the claims initially made by former French president Francois Hollande, Mediapart reported that a Dassault officer, Loik Segalan, had explained to his staff at a presentation last year that the joint venture with Reliance Defence was “imperative and obligatory”.

Dassault Aviation, however, denied the report and said it “has freely chosen to make a partnership with India’s Reliance Group”.

The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the 36-aircraft deal, saying the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating the deal.

Following the Mediapart revelation, the Congress chief Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter and termed Sitharaman’s France visit as #GreatRafaleCoverUp

Additionally, he also levelled allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Narendra Modi – accusations that drew a sharp response from the BJP.

‘Rahul Gandhi’s father was an official middleman’

Gandhi, the BJP said, was trying to make his political career by peddling lies on the Rafale fighter jet deal, said party spokesperson Sambit Patra.

Calling Rajiv Gandhi – former Prime Minister and Rahul Gandhi’s father – “an official middleman in another deal”, Patra said, “Dassault has agreed to the 50% offset, it is mandatory, it was a norm set by Congress”.