Advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie on Tuesday claimed Prime Minister Narendra Modi had compromised national security with the Rafale defence deal. They were speaking at the Press Club in New Delhi on Tuesday.
India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets, at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore. The Congress has been accusing the Narendra Modi government of getting an overpriced deal. It has also alleged that the government helped a defence firm owned by Anil Ambani with no experience in the sector to land a mega contract under the deal.
The government has refused to reveal the per-plane price that it has negotiated in the deal, citing a secrecy agreement with France. The government has played down the allegations of irregularities in the deal and asked the Congress to show evidence.
“The responses of Reliance, [Arun] Jaitley and the government at large, cumulatively show that award of offsets to Reliance-Dassault JV is a commission for the services that Ambani provides to Modi,” Bhushan, Sinha and Shourie claimed in a statement.
Under the agreement between India and France, Dassault has to ensure that 50% of the Rs 59,000 crore that India will be paying it for the Rafale aircraft ends up being invested in the Indian defence system. This means that Dassault will have to inject about Rs 30,000 crore into India as part of this deal. A bulk of this Rs 30,000 crore will be channeled through Dassault Reliance Aerospace, a joint venture established between Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aerostructure and Dassault.
The statement added: “The national security has been compromised by the prime minister and every rule of procurement flouted to unilaterally reduce the number of planes from 126 to 36.”
“Reliance has been included for doing no work, which suggests that they are only a middleman earning commission,” they added. “The suggestion that Reliance was brought in without the approval of [Indian government] is false. Government’s attempts to shoot from the shoulders of men in uniform by stating that the deal was made on account of urgency is contrary to facts and makes a mockery of the elaborate Defence Procurement Procedure.”
Bhushan, Sinha and Shourie had made similar allegations in August. They had then claimed that the Rafale defence deal had put national security at risk. They said the deal with France was a “major scandal” and “by far larger than ones that the country has had to contend with in the past”.
On July 20, Congress President Rahul Gandhi had lashed out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Sitharaman in the Lok Sabha, claiming they had not been truthful about the deal with France. He asked the government why the contract was taken away from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and given to a businessman who is under a lot of debt, an apparent reference to Anil Ambani. The government later won a no-confidence vote brought against it by opposition members.