With Six Questions, Congress Challenges 'Jaitlie' on Rafale Deal

Clockwise fro bottom right: Finance minister Arun Jaitley, Congress president Rahul Gandhi; file photo of Rafale fighter jet. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Stepping up its offensive on the Rafale deal – which it cites as an example of ‘crony capitalism’ under Narendra Modi – the Congress on Friday posed a set of six questions, asking the BJP-led NDA government to disclose the “purchase price” of each fighter aircraft and details of how the agreement was reached. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also accused the government of “doublespeak” and “sacrificing” national interests.

He cited instances during the previous UPA government when details of various defence deals were made public and placed before Parliament – that of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, the Sukhoi-30 purchase, and the refurbishment of fighter jets like the Mirage. “As the Modi government stumbles and fumbles, hides and conceals, indulges in doublespeak, sacrifices national interest and refuses to answer on loss to public exchequer, India will continue to demand answers,” Surjewala told reporters.

Separately, Congress president Rahul Gandhi taunted finance minister Arun ‘Jaitlie’ on Twitter on Friday, citing three replies to parliamentary questions during the Manmohan Singh government’s tenure when price information for major defence deals was provided to parliament.

Jaitley had told parliament on Thursday that the UPA government too had chosen to withhold price information because of national security considerations.

At Friday’s press briefing, Surjewala listed a series of questions for the government, including on the price, the secrecy surrounding the deal, the government’s silence on the issue and alleging that prior permission of the Cabinet Committee on Security was not taken.

“What is the price per aircraft of the 36 Rafale aircrafts being purchased by the Modi government? Did Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman not agree to share the price of Rafale aircrafts in a press conference in Raksha Bhawan on November 17, 2017? Why are PM, RM & FM hiding the ‘purchase price’?” he asked.

According to Surjewala, while Sitharaman refused to disclose the price on grounds of a “secrecy agreement”, finance minister Arun Jaitley did not do so for reasons of “national security”. “Isn’t a full disclosure of the price of the Rafale aircraft in the national interest? Why are two ministers of the government speaking in two different voices? Who are they trying to shield? Why is the price of the aircraft shrouded in secrecy and cover-up?” he asked.

Surjewala wanted to know whether the per aircraft price of Rafale, according to international bids opened on December 12, 2012, comes to USD 80.95 million (Rs 526.1 crore) as against the Modi government’s per aircraft negotiated price of USD 241.66 Million (Rs.1,570.8 crore), as per current exchange rates.

He also asked whether Qatar had purchased 12 Rafale fighter jets in November 2017 for USD 108.33 million per aircraft (Rs 694.80 crore), according to current exchange rates. “If this is correct, why has the Modi government paid such an astronomically higher price for the Rafale aircrafts?” According to Surjewala, Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon aircrafts were found equal on all technical requirements by the Indian Air Force.

Did the Eurofighter Typhoon give a written offer to then defence minister Arun Jaitley on July 4, 2014, offering to reduce prices by 20%, he asked. “Why did Prime Minister Modi and defence minister then not ask both the companies to submit fresh bids through the ‘inter-governmental agreement route’ so as to get the lowest price in favour of India’s public exchequer?”

“Why was no prior permission of the Cabinet Committee on Security taken by PM Modi? Why was the defence procurement procedure violated with impunity? Why are the prime minister, defence minister and finance minister completely silent on this issue?” he went on to pose. The Congress leader also questioned the government on why Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, a government PSU, was superseded for a Rs 30,000 crore ‘offset contract’ in favour of a private company.

This was despite the fact that HAL had already signed a ‘work share agreement’ on March 13, 2014 with Dassault Aviation, he said. The government has denied the Congress charge that there is a huge scam in the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

With inputs from PTI