Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday told Hindustan Aeronautical Limited workers in Bengaluru that the Centre “snatched the Rafale jet deal” from them to “gift it to Reliance Defence”. The Congress president has alleged irregularities in the defence deal between the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government and France.
Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence had signed the offset contract with Dassault Aviation, the French firm that manufactures the jets. The Congress has repeatedly accused the Centre of taking away the deal from public sector entity Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which was to make the aircraft in India initially.
Gandhi also demanded that the Centre apologise to employees of HAL for snatching the deal away from them. “They [HAL employees] are insulted and hurt that their hard work and patriotism has been insulted and questioned by the government of India,” he said, according to ANI. “So the first thing is they (HAL employee) expect an apology from the defence minister for insulting HAL.”
Gandhi said his interaction with the company’s workers was to “defend the dignity of India’s defenders”. “I have not come here to give a speech, I have come to listen to you,” Gandhi said. “The country owes you [HAL] for protecting it. You are part of the country’s vision.”
The Congress president has been on the offensive against the BJP-led government in the past few months regarding the Rafale defence deal. The party’s allegations were bolstered when former French President Francois Hollande claimed last month that the Indian government had proposed Reliance Defence’s name for the contract.
On Wednesday, a document accessed by French investigative website Mediapart showed that Dassault Aviation entered into an agreement with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as it was presented as a “trade off” to obtain the contract of Rafale sales. The document shows that Dassault considered this alliance as a “counterpart”, “imperative and mandatory” to get into the Indian market. However, Dassault Aviation debunked the report and stated that it freely chosen to partner with Reliance Group.