Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday asked the media why it didn't pose questions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for renegotiating an arms deal to benefit the defence arm of the Anil Ambani group, or to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief, Amit Shah, about his son's company that had recorded a huge jump in its turnover since the Modi government came to power in May 2014.
Rahul Gandhi also tweeted on the subject of the joint venture between France's Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale figher jets, and Anil Ambani owned Reliance Defence Limited and Reliance Aerostructure Limited.
The BJP sought to dismiss the allegations by the Congress Vice President. Indian Air Force (IAF) chief BS Dhanoa also defended the government. In Jalandhar, Dhanoa said the government has managed to negotiate "a very good deal and that there was no overpricing".
On Tuesday, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had alleged that "a huge scam was brewing" in the procurement of 36 Dassault Rafale fighter jets for the Indian Air Force. Surjewala had said Modi government renegotiated the deal at a massive loss to the exchequer and also neglected the interests of public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) at the expense of Reliance Defence Limited.
"Self "Reliance" is obviously a critical aspect of "Make in India". Can you explain "Reliance" on someone with nix experience in aerospace for Rafale deal?" Rahul Gandhi tweeted, in an obvious reference to the Anil Ambani-owned defence company.
Later at an event at the Congress headquarters, the Congress Vice President asked journalists why they didn't pose questions to the PM and Shah. "You ask me so many questions and I answer all of them. I want to ask you, why don't you question Prime Minister Modi on the Rafale deal. Why don't you ask about Amit Shah's son? "Why don't you question the prime minister who changed the entire Rafale deal to help a businessman?" he asked.
At a briefing on the cabinet decisions, union minister and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Congress is reminded of its rule when it rakes up such an issue. "They are finding it difficult to accept that there has been no case of corruption in the three-year rule of the Narendra Modi government," he said.
In Jalandhar, the IAF chief said: "It is a government-to-government contract. We are getting the 36 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) at a very negotiated price. It is definitely a better deal." He said it was a better deal than the one that the UPA has signed. However, when asked about the Congress claim that price of each fighter jet was now triple of the earlier deal, Dhanoa said: "I don't have the amount, right now.
The Congress had said on Tuesday that the price in the renegotiated deal for each aircraft was up from Rs 526 crore to Rs 1,570 crore, and there was no transfer of technology to India. On Tuesday, Surjewala had also alleged that Dassault Aviation, the French manufacturer of Rafale aircraft, refused to transfer technology to HAL and instead entered into an agreement with Reliance Defence.
When asked why HAL had been replaced by a private sector company, the Air Chief said technology was being transferred to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and then to lot of Indians.
On Tuesday, BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao had dismissed the allegation. He had said it was a "smokescreen" to "divert attention" as Congress leadership faced the prospect of being questioned in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scandal after a middleman in that deal had been arrested in Italy, and was likely to be extradited to India.
In a statement, Reliance Defence Limited dubbed the Congress' allegations as "baseless and unfounded". It said its subsidiary formed a joint venture, Dassault Reliance Aerospace, after a bilateral agreement between two private companies and "the Indian government has no role to play in this".
The company said government policy of June 24, 2016 allows for 49 per cent FDI in the defence sector under the automatic route without any prior approval. To Congress' allegation that Anil Ambani was part of the entourage of the PM during his visit to France in April 2015 when the renegotiated deal was announced, the company said Anil Ambani was present in France as a member of the Indo-French CEO Forum. It said Anil Ambani was one of 20 Indian CEOs who attended the meeting.