Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being corrupt. He was addressing a press conference on former French President François Hollande’s claim that he “did not have a say” in choosing Anil Ambani’s defence company for the Rafale fighter jet deal with India.
Hollande told a French media organisation that the Indian government had proposed Reliance Defence’s name for the pact, which was agreed upon when he was president.
Gandhi said the prime minister should issue a clarification. “Former French president Hollande is calling Modi a thief,” Gandhi told reporters. “He needs to break his silence.”
“We are absolutely convinced that the prime minister of India is corrupt...,” he added. “It is the question of dignity of the office of prime minister. It is the question of future of our jawans and the Air Force.”
Soon after a media report published Hollande’s claim on Friday, Gandhi had accused Modi of betraying the country by “personally negotiating and changing the deal behind closed doors”. Earlier on Saturday, he said Modi and Ambani had jointly carried out a “surgical strike” on defence forces through the deal. “Modi ji you dishonoured the blood of our martyred soldiers,” Gandhi tweeted. “Shame on you. You betrayed India’s soul.”
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said Modi had a hand in allotting the contract to a private party. “It establishes that our prime minister took his friend to France to finalise this deal,” he told ANI. “We have been saying that there is a scam and the prime minister has helped him.”
He called for Modi’s resignation. “He is morally not suitable for the post now,” Kharge said, adding that any Cabinet minister should be appointed prime minister.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh said Hollande’s comment has proved that the Rafale deal is a big scam. “The Modi government should tell why the offset contract was given to Reliance Defence,” Singh told reporters at a press conference in Nagpur. “Hollande’s statement proves that the Modi government favoured Reliance Defence in getting the offset contract.” He asked the prime minister to issue a clarification on the matter and said Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman should resign.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi demanded that Sitharaman should issue a clarification. “People of India would like to know who is lying. Is the former French President Hollande lying or our PM is not saying the truth?” Owaisi asked.
Union Law Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad criticised Rahul Gandhi for calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi a thief. “Never before in history of independent India, has a party president used such words for a prime minister,” ANI quoted him as saying. “We cannot expect anything else from Rahul Gandhi. He has no quality or ability, he’s there due to his family.”
The Indian government has claimed all along that it did not have anything to do with the choice of Ambani’s company. The Opposition has however claimed that an earlier deal which envisioned Dassault Aviation, which manufactured the jets, working with Indian state manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was scrapped to “benefit Modi’s industrialist friend”.
Soon after reports of the interview with Hollande were published, the spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of Defence posted a tweet saying the Mediapart article is “being verified” and reiterated that neither India nor France had any say in the commercial decision.
India agreed to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft worth Rs 59,000 crore from France after signing the deal in September 2016. Later that year, Reliance Defence joined the deal’s offset programme through Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd, in which it holds a 51% stake. Dassault Aviation owns 49% of the joint venture, which was announced in India in October 2016.