The Congress on Sunday demanded a seizure of all Rafale-related documents to establish the truth behind the deal, alleging Prime Minister Narendra Modi alone knew the facts and had hidden them from other ministers and officials.
“In the face of new revelations, there is no doubt that the Prime Minister has got rattled. But he is not answering specific questions regarding the price of the Rafale jets and offset contracts, and how and at what stage the public-sector HAL was ousted,” Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said.
“Our demand is that all related files be seized and forensic audit of the tender documents be done,” he added, asking that a joint parliamentary committee be allowed to examine these documents.
The Congress alleges that Modi had pressured the French to give the Rafale offset contract to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence, bypassing HAL, while keeping the defence and foreign ministries in the dark.
Sharma said the Prime Minister’s state visits have “a fixed agenda with joint statements discussed in advance and the draft exchanged before the start of the tour”.
So, he asked, “when the foreign secretary says two days before (Modi’s) visit (to France in April 2015) that Rafale is not on the agenda (and) confirms ongoing negotiations with HAL, how come the decision to purchase 36 aircraft is taken?”
“It is important to see whether the draft exchanged with the French government mentioned the plan to purchase 36 fighter jets instead of the (UPA) negotiated 108 aircraft. The foreign secretary’s statement is clear (that) it was not mentioned,” Sharma said.
“Dassault chief Eric Trappier too confirmed HAL as the partner but suddenly Ambani comes in. We have said the Prime Minister will have to explain this. Or the documents will bear the truth out. The Prime Minister alone is responsible as the entire administration was kept in the dark.”
Sharma echoed Rahul Gandhi’s allegation that defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to France last week was a cover-up mission, necessitated by reports quoting former French President Francois Hollande as saying the Indian government had proposed Reliance as the offset partner.
“Hence, the defence minister has gone there to manage the crisis created by former President Francois Hollande, who spoke the truth on the offset contract. Otherwise, what is the reason for the visit now?”
Sharma also accused Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley of misleading the country on the state of the economy, arguing that most of the indicators pointed to a grim reality and that even the foreign exchange reserves were falling.
He said an outflow of $30 billion (Rs 2.2 lakh crore) had been reported, around Rs 84,000 crore of it in the first quarter of this financial year.
“How can the fastest growing economy have the worst performing currency in Asia?” Sharma said.
“We are pained at the plight of the rupee; the market is in turmoil; the credit offtake is at its lowest; the current account deficit is rising. All these are the outcome of gross mismanagement and disastrous decisions like the demonetisation.”
Sharma recalled how exports had been booming under UPA rule. “Exports were growing at 18 per cent when we left office. By that yardstick, the exports should have stood at $500 billion today,” he said.
“It was $320 billion in May 2014 when we left and it is barely $300 billion today. The loss of $200 billion, which is huge, is seriously affecting job growth.”