Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday criticised Congress President Rahul Gandhi for levelling allegations of irregularities in the Rafale jet deal with France and dismissed the Opposition party’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee inquiry into the agreement.

The minister said there was no need for an inquiry into the matter as the Supreme Court has examined all aspects of the deal to satisfy its conscience. However, the Congress’ electoral needs have not been met, Jaitley quipped.

The House was adjourned a couple of times during the post-lunch session after the Congress president opened the debate. “There are a number of holes in the Rafale story,” Gandhi claimed in his opening statement.

Members of the ruling National Democratic Alliance protested after the Congress president sought to play an audio clip in which a person, identified by the Congress as Goa Health Minister Vishwajeet Rane, says that Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is aware of all the details of the India-France Rafale jet deal. In the clip, the person believed to be Rane claims that Parrikar, who was the defence minister when the deal was signed in 2016, has said he has “all the files related to the Rafale deal in his bedroom”. Parrikar and Rane have said the audio clip is doctored.

Speaker Sumitra Mahajan did not allow Gandhi to play the tape, asking if the Congress had verified its authenticity. She also turned down the Congress president’s request to read out the transcript of the tape.

Gandhi reiterated the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee inquiry into the deal and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi why even a single Rafale aircraft had not been delivered to India till date if the Air Force needed the jets urgently. “The Supreme Court verdict stated that probing Rafale scam does not come under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, but they never said that JPC shouldn’t be formed,” he said.

The Congress president asked why the earlier deal for 126 aircraft – signed during the tenure of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government – was changed to a deal for 36 aircraft by the Modi government. “Did the Air Force change the demand for number of planes or did you take the decision unilaterally?” Gandhi asked the prime minister, accusing him of hiding in his room. He also accused Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of hiding behind members of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The Congress president again claimed that the prime minister had bypassed the entire procurement procedure to help businessman Anil Ambani, referring to him as “AA” after Mahajan told him not to take Ambani’s name. “Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has been making aircraft for 70 years, their aircraft helped India win wars,” Gandhi pointed tout. “It has a tremendous record and is the bedrock of technology in country. On other side, Anil Ambani is a failed businessman who has Rs 45,000 crore.”

Jaitley’s response

Jaitley responded to Gandhi’s speech, saying the Congress president’s questions had been answered by the Supreme Court. “There are some who have a natural dislike for truth,” the minister said, accusing the Congress of fabricating truth and a conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron. “Today, he tried to produce a tape but he is too scared to authenticate it,” he added.

Jaitley referred to the Gandhis’ alleged involvement with Bofors scam accused and said they were out on bail in the National Herald case. “Why did Christian Michel mention ‘Italian lady’ and ‘son of Italian lady’?” he asked. “Had it been just one case I would have understood. If in Bofors, AgustaWestland and National Herald case finger points at you, it is a bit too much. Today, they have the audacity to raise an allegation against us.”

Some people people understand money but not national security, the minister said. “When he [Rahul] was a young man, he was playing in the lap of one Q [Ottavio Quattrocchi] whose name cropped up in the Bofors case.”

Jaitley said the Rafale jets would have been helpful in the Kargil war and accused the Congress of endangering national security, the Hindustan Times reported. “Defence agreements are of two types, either through tenders or inter-governmental agreements,” he added. “There were six bidders and ultimately Rafale was shortlisted. UPA postponed Rafale acquisition.”

The union finance minister said “escalation costs” were the reason for the pricing differences in the deals signed by the UPA and the Modi government.

“There were discussions on cost of basic aircraft and weaponised aircraft,” Jaitley said. “There is a difference between basic aircraft and weaponised aircraft. If we reveal the detail of the weaponised aircraft, the enemies will know what weapons we have and we will also break our contract obligations.”

The minister claimed that the price of basic aircraft agreed upon by the Modi government is 9% cheaper than what the Congress-led government had agreed to. Similarly, the price of weaponised aircraft according to the terms signed by the current government is 20% cheaper, he added.

Other parties target government

The Trinamool Congress also lashed out at Narendra Modi, accusing him of “hiding behind Arun Jaitley”, and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the Hindustan Times reported.

“Why was a newcomer given offset contract instead of 70-year-old trusted public sector company?” asked Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy. “Reliance has a debt of Rs 8,000 crore and loss of Rs 40,000 crore. There are 72 offset partners, no one else is questioned. Maharashtra CM gave Ambani land in 2015, Nitin Gadkari inaugurated in 2017, but not even a fence was laid. Why such a company was given contract?”

Shiv Sena leader Arvind Sawant also questioned Ambani’s choice as an offset partner of Dassault Aviation, which manufactures the jets, ANI reported. “What sort of an offset contractor was Ambani?” asked Sawant. “His defence company was only on paper, while HAL had all the capability to manufacture the jets. If the government is confident about the deal being clean, why is it afraid of ordering a JPC?”

The Biju Janata Dal also expressed reservations about the deal and said it “deserves transparency”, the Hindustan Times reported.