The Congress on Tuesday claimed that only Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former French President Francois Hollande were aware of the Rafale deal when it was announced in 2015. “[Former Defence Minister] Manohar Parrikar, [Finance Minister] Arun Jaitley or [present Defence Minister] Nirmala Sitharaman, none of them were aware of the new deal announced by the prime minister,” Congress leader Kapil Sibal said at a press conference.

“On April 8, 2015, [former] Foreign Secretary of India [S Jaishankar] said the Rafale deal would not be on the table during Modi’s visit to France on April 10, 2015,” Sibal said. “But the prime minister announced a deal for 36 Rafale aircraft, while none of them [ministers and officials] were aware of it.”

Sibal said that on March 25, 2015, Dassault Aviation Chief Executive Officer Eric Trappier announced that the French company had finalised a contract with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for manufacturing the Rafale aircraft. “On March 28, [Anil Ambani’s] Reliance Defence Limited was incorporated,” Sibal said.

On September 21, French news organisation Mediapart quoted Hollande as saying that his government “did not have a say” in choosing Reliance Defence for the deal. He also claimed the Indian government had proposed Reliance Defence’s name for the pact, which was agreed upon when he was the president.

“Modi would not look me in the eye when I asked him why Anil Ambani was given a contract despite there being Rs 45,000 crore debt on him,” said Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday, according to ANI. On Monday, he accused the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre of “snatching money from the poor and giving it to industrialist Anil Ambani”. At a rally in Amethi, Gandhi had said: “Why was the price [of the deal] not was the contract given to Ambani...serious charges have been levelled by former French President Francois Hollande.”

Sibal said on Tuesday that though India needed 126 Rafale aircraft, the government could not afford to purchase them as it had already overspent on the 36 it bought from France, the Hindustan Times reported. “The government has compromised national security,” Sibal claimed.

He refuted Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s claim that Gandhi’s allegations have international dimensions. “We wanted the Rafale deal to go through, which would generate thousands of jobs,” the Congress leader said. “I want to ask Nirmala Sitharaman where did she come across international conspiracy?”

BJP attacks Robert Vadra

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, however, chose to train his guns on Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra. “Rafale deal documents were recovered from Robert Vadra’s close friend Sanjay Bhandari during a raid in 2016 at his house,” Patra said, according to ANI. “How did these confidential documents reach there?”

The deal

In 2012, the United Progressive Alliance government started negotiating with Dassault to buy 126 Medium Multi-Rule Combat Aircraft. At the time, it was proposed that Dassault would supply 18 Rafale jets in fly-away condition while state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, along with the company, would manufacture 108 aircraft in India. However, the deal did not work out.

In September 2016, India agreed to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft worth Rs 59,000 crore from France after signing the deal. 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.