Rafale row: Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders speak on the Rafale issue in Delhi
Rahul Gandhi today said if the Congress party comes to power in this year's election, a criminal investigation would be launched into the Rafale jet deal and the accused would be punished. The Congress president's comments came as the party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of overruling objections raised by the defence and the law ministries to push ahead with a deal at a higher cost, without accounting for national security.
Speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Mr Gandhi said the minister must answer the questions raised by the Congress on the multi-million dollar fighter jet deal.
"The PM ran away from the Rafale debate and (Finance Minister) Arun Jaitley gave a long speech, abused me, but didn't answer my questions," said the Congress president. "We and the entire opposition want that when the defence minister speaks on the PM's behalf, the questions raised by us should be answered," he said.
He asked, "who decided to raise the price of Rafale aircraft from Rs 526 crore to Rs 1,600 crore – the Air Force, Defence Ministry or the PM? The Air Force requires 126 aircraft. Who reduced the number of planes to 36? Who decided to give the contract to Anil Ambani?"
He also questioned whether the negotiating team or the Defence Ministry objected to any element of the new deal.
The Dassault Rafale is an advanced all-weather multi-role jet fighter
"In addition to corruption, the PM should be investigated for weakening national security by giving the Rafale contract to his friend and international debt master, Anil Ambani," Mr Gandhi said.
He added: "Youngsters, please listen to the defence minister carefully."
Congress leaders issued a statement alleging "dirty secrets, corruption and malfeasance" tumbling out of the Rafale files and reiterated their demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe.
"The entire spectrum of deception lies at the doorstep of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who overruled the objections raised and recorded by raised by the 'negotiations team' in Rafale deal," they said.
The Congress leaders cited a report that said that PM Modi paid a higher price for Rafale jets for India compared to Qatar and Egypt and compromised national security and India's interests by ignoring the discount offered by Eurofighter.
"Objections on the file read 'As per the prices reflected in Dassault's financial results, it has sold Rafale at a cheaper rate to Qatar and Egypt as compared to India'. With the looming threat of China and Pakistan, does it not compromise India's National Security," the leaders asked.
Hours after Mr Gandhi's criticism, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman replied in parliament: "There is a difference between defence dealings and dealing in defence. We don't do defence dealings. We deal in defence with national security as a priority."