Responding to Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s allegations on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Rafale fighter jet deal, Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal on Friday accused the Congress chief of being a “serial liar” and “manufacturer of fake news”. Hitting out at Rahul Gandhi’s accusations, Goyal said his repeated lies could not substitute the truth of the deal.
When asked if the BJP would file a defamation case against the Congress chief, Goyal said: “It’s a thought worth considering.” He pointed to comments of Rafale’s French manufacturer Dassault Aviation’s CEO Eric Trappier rejecting Rahul Gandhi’s allegations. He also claimed that the negotiations between Dassault and Reliance Group had been going on since 2012 —from the time of the UPA government.
When asked whether the two Reliance companies — the one with which negotiations were on since 2012 and that which eventually got the workshare contract — were one and the same, Goyal said the government was not concerned with who Dassault gave the offset contract to. The minister rejected the suggestion that the Congress has used the issue of alleged corruption in the Rafale deal to create a perception against the prime minister. Goyal said an “issue-less” party and its leadership bereft of truth are no substitute to Modi and his good governance. He detailed “seven lies” that the Congress and its party chief have uttered on the Rafale deal, and said they were “flogging a dead horse” now that Dassault has issued a statement clarifying the report published on Wednesday by a French news website.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said Goyal should first answer allegations against him with regard to his business interests prior to his having become a minister in the Modi government. “The government is yet to answer some simple questions we have asked. Why was the offset contract given to the company owned by Anil Ambani?” Khera said. The Congress spokesperson said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was kept out because it is not capable of manufacturing Rafale jets. “Please tell us what expertise did the company, owned by Mr Anil Ambani, have in manufacturing fighter jets,” Khera asked. He said the government was yet to answer how the only the PM and Ambani knew of the workshare contract going to the industrialist. He said Dassault had negotiated with Reliance owned by Mukesh Ambani, and not Anil Ambani. “Who knows this better than Mr. Piyush Goyal,” Khera said.
The union minister was fielded by the Bharatiya Janata Party to reject Congress’ charges on the Rafale deal, a day after the Dassault CEO said his firm’s joint venture with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group represented only around 10 per cent of the offset investments under the Rafale jet deal and it was in partnership talks with 100 other companies.
Rahul Gandhi has been accusing the PM of forcing Dassault to select Reliance as an offset partner to help the Indian firm “pocket” Rs 300 billion —the entire estimated offset amount. Goyal said the Dassault CEO has categorically confirmed that offset was an obligation for his company and it selected its partners of its “volition and choice”. He reiterated the BJP’s charge that the Congress had cancelled the deal with Dassault when it was in power because the French firm did not agree to give benefits to a defence dealer linked to Robert Vadra.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday visited a production facility of French aerospace major Dassault Aviation near Paris where the Rafale jets to be supplied to India are being manufactured, official sources said.
They said during her visit to the plant in Argenteuil, Sitharaman spoke to officials of the Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, and took stock of progress in production of the fighter jets whose delivery to India will begin in September next year.
Sitharaman arrived in Paris Thursday on a three-day visit and held talks with her French counterpart Florence Parly on ways to deepen the strategic and defence cooperation between the two countries.
The talks were held under the framework of the annual Indo-French defence ministerial dialogue which was agreed to during the summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron in March.
Official sources said the two defence ministers held a one-on-one meeting followed by delegation-level talks, covering a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interests. It was not immediately known whether the Rafale deal figured in the talks.
When asked about the allegations, Sitharaman said that offset obligations for the deal are mandatory but not the names of the companies.