The Congress on Monday kept up its attacks on the Centre over the Rafale jet deal with France, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of acting as a “frontman for his corporate friends”, PTI reported. The Opposition party also lashed out at Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for claiming that it might have become a pawn in a corporate rivalry.
“[The] government and BJP’s claim that the Rafale deal was transparent and cut out middlemen is laughable and ridiculous,” Congress leader and former Union minister Anand Sharma tweeted. “The fact is it was opaque and flawed. Surely no middlemen...good. But what when the prime minister acts as a front man for corporate friends?”
Sharma said Sitharaman’s claim that the Opposition’s questions on the Rafale deal were “corporate lobbying” was objectionable. “Sad to see defence ministry misused to cover up [the deal], and the minister reduced to being an apologist defending the indefensible,” he added.
Former French President Francois Hollande had claimed last year that businessman Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence, which had no prior experience in the sector, won an offset contract under the deal on the basis of a recommendation by the Indian government. “Why has the prime minister not personally denied former French President Francois Hollande’s statement?” Sharma asked. “Any answers?”
On Sunday, Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi said Sitharaman’s remarks about “corporate warfare” proved that the government had given preference to corporate interests over national interest.
In 2016, the Narendra Modi-led government scrapped the former United Progressive Alliance’s deal for 126 jets, and signed a new agreement with France for 36 aircraft. The Congress has alleged that the Centre intended to benefit Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the jets, by renegotiating the agreement. On Friday, the Ministry of Defence dubbed as “factually inaccurate” a report in The Hindu that said the new deal increased the price of each aircraft by 41%.
Last week, the Congress had reiterated its demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee investigation into the deal after referring to report in The Hindu.