Rafale deal row gets murkier as political blame game continues

New Delhi: Accusing the Congress of running a smear campaign against the government at an international level, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday said the row over the purchase of the Rafale fighter jets is a “perception battle”.

“We will fight this. We’ll go to places and state facts on record on Rafale,” she said, according to news agency ANI. Sitharaman assertion and the BJP’s counter-attack came on a day the Congress approached the Central Vigilance Commission to seek a probe into the purchase.

On April 10, 2015, PM Narendra Modi announced the purchase of 36 Rafale jets at around Rs 60,000 crore after talks with then French president Francois Hollande.

The previous Congress-led UPA government had negotiated with Dassault for 126 Rafale jets under which 18 jets were to be supplied in a fly-away condition and 108 were to be manufactured in India along with HAL. However, the UPA could not seal the deal.

The opposition asked how HAL was out despite being part of the negotiations with Dassault until just before the PM’s visit to France in April 2015. On April 8, then Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar also made it clear that HAL was very much on board.

In the new deal, Anil Ambani’s rookie company Reliance Defence became Dassault’s offset partner with no experience in the field. As part of the offset clause, Dassault has to ensure that business worth at least half the money – Rs 30,000 crore — is generated in India.

Tweeting a video of the Dassault chairman, the Congress today launched a fresh attack on the government. The video tweeted by the Congress has Dassault chief Eric Trappier speaking on March 25, 2015, in the presence of the Indian Air Force and HAL officers. Trappier can be heard discussing responsibility sharing on the Rafale contract. “17 days later PM Modi gave the contract to Reliance,” tweeted the Congress, demanding Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s resignation for “lying to the nation”.

Key points:

  • Adding a fresh twist to the ongoing row over the Rafale fighter jet deal, the ruling BJP on Monday dragged Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chief Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s name, alleging that the latter was keen to get the defence deal to help his businessman friend.
  • The allegations were made by Union Minister and senior BJP leader Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who said that Vadra wanted to help his businessman friend Sanjay Bhandari so the previous UPA government led by the Congress party wanted to seal the Rafale defence deal with France. Addressing a press conference, the Union Minister further said that Bhandari and Vadra are close friends and the duo has been seen at various defence expo and exhibitions on many occasions in past.

  • President Hollande dropped a bombshell last week as he said France had been given no choice on picking Anil Ambani’s company as Dassault’s offset partner in 2016. He made the comment while denying in an interview any conflict of interest with Reliance, which partly financed a film produced by his partner, Julie Gayet, in 2016.
    Congress chief Rahul Gandhi attacked the government, saying: “An ex-president of France is calling him (the prime minister of India) a thief. It’s a question of the dignity of the office of the prime minister.”