On Arun Jaitley’s Rafale Debate Challenge, Congress Says “Decide A Time”

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Mr Kharge demanded that the government should disclose the price of the deal (File)

New Delhi:

On Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's comment that the Congress was "running away" from a debate in parliament on the Rafale jet deal, Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge said today that the party accepts the challenge. He also asked Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to decide a time for the debate on January 2. "Jaitley-ji has thrown a challenge … we accept it… we are ready for a debate on January 2. Please decide a time," Mr Kharge said in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, before it was adjourned for the day.

The Congress alleges that the deal to buy Rafale jets from France's Dassault was mired in corruption and crony capitalism. The party also says that the price of the deal was inflated. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has led the attack on the BJP-led government over the deal, has alleged that the offset deal worth Rs 30,000 crore was given to Reliance Defence, a company owned by Anil Ambani, without any experience in defence manufacturing. He says the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was overlooked to give undue benefit to Mr Ambani's company.

The Supreme Court earlier this month said there was no reason to doubt the decision-making process behind the deal. Petitions alleging that the government had gone for an overpriced deal to help Anil Ambani's company bag an offset contract with jet-maker Dassault also didn't wash with the Court, which dismissed the need for a probe and said: "There is no evidence of commercial favouritism to any private entity."

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Arun Jaitley dared the Congress to have a debate on Rafale deal.

Since the start of the winter session of parliament, the Congress has been demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe in Rafale deal, which is denied by the government. On Monday, when they again made the demand, shouting slogans, Mr Jaitley challenged the principal opposition, saying, "If you have the courage, begin the debate immediately."

Mr Kharge accepted the demand later. He reminded Speaker Sumitra Mahajan Mr Jaitley's challenge and asked her to fix the time for a discussion on January 2.

"I am not saying no…why should I say no…In fact the House was prepared for a debate but something happened and you (Congress) started demanding JPC probe…you keep your challenges to yourself… don't challenge me. When the debate will take place, I will decide…you will decide," Sumitra Mahajan remarked and then adjourned the house for the day.

Earlier, Mr Kharge again demanded that the government should disclose the price of the deal. "Why the government is not disclosing the prices even as the French President has said it can be disclosed," he said.

The government has not disclosed the cost of the deal citing a secrecy clause it has entered with the French government. However, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said a few months ago that the former French President Francois Hollande had told him that there was no such clause between the two government — the claim was refuted by the French government in a statement.

Francois Hollande had made a sensation claim in an interview with a French website, saying Reliance was picked up after insistence from the Indian government. The company, the governments of the two countries, and Dassault denied the charge.

With inputs from agencies

Disclaimer: NDTV has been sued for 10,000 crores by Anil Ambani's Reliance Group for its coverage of the Rafale deal

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