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PM tipped off Ambani on Rafale, breached oath: Congress

How can anybody know the Prime Minister is going to reverse the deal and buy 36 aircraft only, cancelling out HAL, Opposition party asks

By Our Special Correspondent in New Delhi

  • Published 24.09.18, 4:35 AM
  • Updated 24.09.18, 4:35 AM
Rahul Gandhi addresses the media on Rafale deal in New Delhi on Saturday.
Rahul Gandhi addresses the media on Rafale deal in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI

The Congress on Sunday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of violating the oath of office he had taken, suggesting nobody else could have tipped off Anil Ambani about the revised Rafale deal.

“Anil Ambani’s firm, Reliance Defence, was incorporated on March 28, 2015 — 13 days before the Rafale deal was announced in Paris,” Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said at a news conference.

“The agreement between Dassault Aviation and HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd) was alive at that time. How can anybody know the Prime Minister is going to reverse the deal and buy 36 aircraft only, cancelling out HAL?”

He added: “The entire defence establishment, the foreign secretary, the Indian ambassador to Paris, Dassault didn’t know of the plan. The cabinet committee on security (CCS) didn’t know. Only the Prime Minister knew.

“Who could have tipped off Ambani? This is violation of the oath of office. He (Ambani) gets his firm incorporated 10 days before leaving with the Prime Minister for France and gets the contract.

“Would the French government (have) know(n) HAL will be ousted? At what stage it was decided that HAL is out? Can a foreign government or a foreign company unilaterally decide to throw out a public sector company after signing the work-share agreement?”

Sharma added: “It is a conspiracy not to tell anybody about the plan to cancel the contract decided through due process and inform one industrialist. The minutes of the CCS should be seized. The Prime Minister took post-facto approval for his personal decision. There will be an inquiry in the future and criminal cases will be filed.”

Anil Ambani has contradicted the Congress charge that Reliance Defence was set up 13 days before the deal was announced in France.

At a news conference in Mumbai, Ambani had said: “The Reliance Group announced its decision to enter the defence manufacturing sector in December 2014-January 2015, months before the intention for purchase of Rafale aircraft. In February 2015, we informed the Indian stock exchanges of the companies we have incorporated.”

Modi announced the Rafale deal in April 2015.

Rahul Gandhi has said several times that Ambani’s firm had been incorporated barely two weeks before the deal was announced.

Sharma argued that the rules for offset contracts were clear that they had to be approved by the acquisition management committee and signed by the defence minister. The criteria for selecting an offset partner include that of experience in manufacturing.

Sharma argued that the controversy would have global ramifications, with many countries raising questions.

He warned the BJP against maligning former French President Francois Hollande, who has recently been quoted as saying that it was the Indian government that had “proposed” the name of the offset partner.

“They (the BJP) are making a mockery of the country. They are saying the UPA deal didn’t have weapons and avionics. The world knows that the global tender has all the specifications and (the choice of) Rafale was decided by discussing every aspect. We were not buying toy planes,” Sharma said.

He advised ministers to remain silent, saying their “false arguments” were leaving the government further embarrassed.

“The Prime Minister, who speaks on everything, is silent because he knows he is caught. The ministers are ill-informed and are giving false arguments,” he said.

“They should also be careful. This is the scam of the century. This Prime Minister will put them in trouble.”

Sharma accused finance minister Arun Jaitley of failing to answer specific questions.

Rahul tweeted: “Mr Jetlie’s speciality is his ability to spin ‘2 truths’, or lies, with fake self righteousness & indignation to defend the indefensible. It’s high time he, the RM (Raksha Mantri or defence minister) & our PM stop lying and call a JPC (joint parliamentary committee) to establish the full, uncorrupted truth about the #RafaleScam.”

Sharma objected to BJP president Amit Shah’s charge that there was an alliance between the Congress and Pakistan because only Rahul and Pakistan wanted to oust Modi.

“We don’t expect any kind of decency from Amit Shah but he should understand it is the duty of the Opposition to expose the government,” Sharma said.

“We are in a democracy and we can’t be expected to only listen to the wisdom of ministers. In the elections, we will give a call for Modi’s ouster. We can’t say, ‘Elect Modi’.”