(Eds: Updating, combining related stories, adding BJP reaction) New Delhi, Feb 13 (PTI) Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday cited a purported “dissent note” by some officials who negotiated the Rafale deal to assert that it demolishes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim of better pricing and faster delivery of the jets, and dismissed the CAG report on the multi-billion pact as a “coverup” that was “not worth the paper” it was written on.
Stepping up its attack on the government within hours of the much-awaited the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the contentious jet deal being tabled in Parliament, the Congress chief accused the Modi government of “lying”.
Gandhi, at a press conference, said that even though he does not agree with the CAG’s submission that the deal was 2.86 per cent cheaper than the UPA-era offer, but it “calls the bluff” of Modi, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman who “had lied to Parliament by stating that the price of the ‘new deal’ was 9-20 per cent lower”.
The report said the Rafale deal signed by the Modi government to procure 36 fighter jets from France’s Dassault got 2.86 per cent cheaper price than what was negotiated during the previous UPA regime in 2007. However, it did not give pricing of these jets.
Observing that Modi, Sitharaman and Jaitely’s argument on why the new deal was required was based on two pillars — price and the fact that the Air Force needed the planes quickly, he said the “dissent note” by some of the Rafale deal negotiating team members has “demolished” their contention.
According to Gandhi, the note said that Dassault Aviation would take at least 10 years to complete its present backlog of Rafale aircraft.
“The fact of the matter is that the new deal that Mr Narendra Modi signed gets India the aircraft later than the original deal (UPA-negotiated proposal),” the Congress president said.
He also quoted the note as saying that the final price offered by the French government, which is escalation-based, was 55.6 per cent above the benchmark price.
“There is only one reason the new deal has been carried out and that is to give Mr Anil Ambani 30,000 crore,” he said.
Severely critical of the CAG, he asked why the “dissent note” by the negotiating team officials not part of the repor?.
“As far as I am concerned, a CAG report that does not mention this document, that does not mention the dissent the negotiating team itself made on price, on timing, I dont think it is worth the paper (it is written on),” he said.
“The CAG report is a cover-up. It ignores the cost of the missing bank guarantee & glosses over the suspect costs for ‘India Specific Enhancements’. But even the CAG couldn’t hide that it may take upto 10 yrs. for the 36 RAFALE jets to be delivered!” Gandhi also tweeted later.
Hitting back, senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “we never imagined that Indira Gandhi’s grandson and Rajiv Gandhi’s son will lie so shamelessly”.
Addressing a press conference, Prasad said in view of the SC order and the CAG report, Gandhi should withdraw his allegations and tender an apology. “BJP demands that Rahul apologise as SC order and CAG report on Rafale jet deal have exposed his lies,” he added.
During his media interaction, Gandhi also claimed that if the Supreme Court had access to the “dissent note” it could never have made the judgement it did.
The Supreme Court had dismissed the pleas on the Rafale deal, saying there was no occasion to “really doubt the decision-making process” warranting setting aside of the defence contract for purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets.
“Was Supreme court given this paper…no,” holding out the document he said was a “dissent note” by members of the Indian Negotiating Team of the Rafale deal.
Gandhi also alleged that the India-specific enhancements almost cost the same for 126 as they did for 36 jets, alleging “that is where the corruption has taken place.” He also challenged the Prime Minister to have a debate with him on Rafale and then let the people decide.
“You say there was no scam, then why are you afraid of ordering a JPC,” he said, reiterating his demand for a joint parliamentary committee to look into the deal.
“Three negotiators have put it in black and white because they understand that a crime is being committed,” Gandhi alleged.
“You would have seen PM’s face in parliament, he is demoralised,” Gandhi claimed.
The Congress chief’s blistering attack came on a day a report in a English daily ‘The Hindu’ claimed that the Rafale deal was not on”better terms” than the UPA-era offer.
Three senior Defence Ministry officials who were the domain experts on the seven-member Indian Negotiating Team (INT) came to a “well-substantiated and clear conclusion” that the Narendra Modi government’s new Rafale deal for 36 flyaway aircraft was not on “better terms” than the offer made by Dassault Aviation during the procurement process for 126 aircraft under the United Progressive Alliance government, the report said.
Earlier in the day, Raising slogans such as “chowkidar chor hai”, Congress lawmakers, including Rahul Gandhi, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, protested near the Gandhi statue in Parliament complex over the Rafale deal.
The Congress leaders were seen carrying paper planes and posters, alleging scam in the multi-crore fighter jet deal.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.