‘Clear-cut case of corruption': Rahul Gandhi attacks PM Modi, govt over new Rafale report

NEW DELHI: In a fresh attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Rafale deal, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday called the Rs 59,000 crore deal for 36 fighter jets a "clear-cut case of corruption" and accused the government of a cover up.

Gandhi also questioned the timing of defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman's three-day visit to France. "I don't know what the emergency is... It is pretty clear that there is a huge cover-up... India's Defence Minister going to France... What can be a clearer," he said at Gandhi said at a hurriedly-convened press conference.

Gandhi's criticism comes a day after a French media report suggested that the French aviation firm had been told to partner with Anil Ambani's Reliance Group, based on a 2017 Dassault document. The company has denied this interpretation, underlining that it had "freely chosen" Anil Ambani's Reliance Group as an offset partner for the Rafale deal.

The Congress president was dismissive of Dassault Aviation's denials.

"Remember one thing. Dassault is sitting on a huge contract. It will say what Indian govt wants them to say," said Gandhi who is spearheading the opposition campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the centre ahead of key state elections and Lok Sabha elections next year.

"The reality is the prime minister is corrupt. The prime minister of India is a corrupt man," he said. The Congress chief said the prime minister had come to power on the promise of working as the country's watchman. It turns out, Gandhi said, that "PM Modi was Anil Ambani's prime minister" and has played the role of a watchman for him.

Hitting back, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra accused Rahul Gandhi of jeopardising the country's security.

"Rahul Gandhi is repeatedly lying. He is making a mockery of the national security. The entire Gandhi family is corrupt and they are pointing fingers at others?" Patra said, wondering why the Congress president hadn't approached the courts since he claimed to know things about the deal.

The deal has also become controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity for an offset deal. Former French President Francois Hollande has said that Reliance was made Dassault's offset partner at India's insistence.

The row intensified last month after former President Francois Hollande was quoted as saying that India did not give France a choice on selection of the Indian partner for Dassault, the manufacturer of Rafale jets. The Indian and the French government have denied the charge.

The Supreme Court had yesterday directed the National Democratic Alliance government to provide details of the decision-making process that led to the purchase of the Rafale fighter jets from France. The top court said it did not want to examine the issue of pricing and suitability of the Rafale jets but only the decision-making process to "satisfy ourselves".

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