In a sharp attack on the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday accused her of “lying” about the Rafale deal and demanded her resignation.
Tweeting a news report where the former chief of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), T S Raju, claimed that the Bengaluru-based public sector undertaking could have built Rafale fighters in India if the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi had finalised the deal that the previous government had negotiated, Mr. Gandhi took to twitter to target Ms. Sitharaman by playing on the words ‘Raksha Mantri (Defence Minister)’.
“The RM (Rafale Minister) tasked with defending corruption has been caught lying again. The former HAL Chief, TS Raju, has nailed her lie, that HAL didn’t have the capability to build the RAFALE. Her position is untenable & she must resign,” the Congress chief tweeted.
The Congress said that after Raju’s revelation, the Defence Minister had “no moral authority to continue even for a second” and reiterated its demand to have the deal investigated by a Joint Parliamentary Committee.
“The [former] chief executive of HAL Shri T Suvarna Raju has said that HAL and Dassault had actually signed the work-share contract and that work-share contract was available with the Government…he says that everything had been sorted out,” former Union Minister Manish Tewari told reporters at a briefing. “It completely and absolutely demolishes the web of lies and insinuations which this government has been trying to construct,” Tewari said.
For more than six months now, the Congress has been alleging that the Rafale deal involves “huge corruption” that resulted in a loss of Rs 41,000 crore to the public exchequer.
The Congress claims the UPA government had agreed to buy 126 fighter jets, out of which 108 aircraft were to be made by HAL under transfer of technology and the price of each aircraft was fixed at ₹526 crore. However, the NDA government decided to buy only 36 Rafale jets through a fresh order and the Congress has alleged that each aircraft is now going to actually cost the country Rs 1,670 crore.
While the government didn’t formally react to the claims made by the former HAL boss, an official speaking on condition of anonymity termed the report quoting Raju as “factually incorrect.”
“Since the work share between Dassault Aviation and HAL was never agreed upon, the statement claiming lower life cycle cost is completely presumptive,” the official said.
Tewari dismissed the anonymous comments and sought to know why the government was yet to come on record on the report. “The government doesn’t have the courage to come out and address a press conference, so they do this surreptitiously, through putting out notes,” he said.