Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Monday continued his criticism of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in connection with the Rafale deal, asking again whether the Air Force had opposed the “Centre’s interference” in the agreement.
Gandhi also reiterated his accusation that Sitharaman had lied in Parliament about granting “orders worth Rs 1 lakh crore to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited”.
The Congress has accused the Centre of signing an overpriced deal and helping Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence, which had no prior experience in the sector before landing a contract with Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the fighter jets.
The Congress chief claimed that the defence minister had evaded his questions in Parliament. “I am again requesting the defence minister and Prime Minister Modi to answer my question,” Gandhi told reporters outside Parliament. “Did the Air Force and senior officers from the Defence Ministry object to your interference in Rafale deal? Please answer with a yes or no.”
Gandhi also repeated his demand for a debate with Modi on the matter.
On January 6, Sitharaman had accused Gandhi of “misleading the public” and “spreading lies” hours after he claimed the minister had lied to the Parliament during the debate on the Rafale jet deal in Lok Sabha.
Gandhi had asked Sitharaman to prove her claim that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government had given orders worth Rs 1 lakh crore to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. He was referring to a report in The Times Of India, which had quoted unidentified HAL officials as saying that the public sector company was still waiting for the formalisation of orders that Sitharaman had mentioned during her Rafale debate on January 4.
The defence minister had asked Gandhi to read the complete report, which mentioned that “Sitharaman did not claim the orders were signed, saying they were in the works”. She advised Gandhi to “start from ABCs” and accused him of “misleading the public”.
“It’s a shame that the president of Congress is spreading lies and misleading the country,” Sitharaman’s office had tweeted, adding that HAL had signed contracts worth Rs 26,570.8 crore between 2014 and 2018 and that more worth Rs 73,000 crore were in the pipeline. “Will Rahul Gandhi apologise to the country from the floor of the house and resign?”