Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday took a dig at the Congress hours after the Opposition party’s leader Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of treason. Gandhi had accused Modi of acting as a middleman for industrialist Anil Ambani in the Rafale jet deal between India and France.
Jaitley referred to the alliance of Opposition parties, known as the grand alliance or mahagatbandhan, as the “mahajhootbandhan” or the grand alliance of lies. “How many lies need to be peddled to sustain a sinking dynasty?” Jaitley asked in a blog post.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also criticised Gandhi for taking on Modi. He claimed that the Congress president was working as a lobbyist for Dassault Aviation’s rival companies. Dassault manufactures the fighter jets. “Where did he get the Airbus email from?” Prasad asked. “Airbus itself is under clouds for deals during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.”
The law minister said Gandhi had thrown muck at his own face by abusing Modi. “We will expose his lies before the public,” he added.
In his tirade against the prime minister, Gandhi quoted from an email purportedly written by an Airbus executive to a French official. The Airbus executive claimed that Ambani was aware of the Memorandum of Understanding before India and France signed it in 2015.
Citing a report in The Indian Express, Gandhi said Ambani had met the then French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian days before the deal was signed during Modi’s visit to France. Modi had violated the Official Secrets Act by giving Ambani details about the deal that even Minister Manohar Parrikar, who was then the defence minister, was unaware of, Gandhi alleged.
The Congress president claimed that only Modi could have told Ambani about the deal in advance. Ambani’s Reliance Group is one of the offset partners of Dassault Aviation.
In a press statement, the Congress alleged that Modi and Ambani were directly negotiating the deal as neither Parrikar and the Ministry of External Affairs nor the Cabinet were unaware of the agreement.
Gandhi also rejected the Comptroller and Auditor General report on the Rafale deal, describing it as the “Chowkidar Auditor General” report. The government is expected to table the report in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. The Congress on February 10 had urged Comptroller and Auditor General Rajiv Mehrishi to recuse himself from auditing the deal, alleging a conflict of interest. Mehrishi was the finance secretary when the deal was signed and was part of the negotiations.
Last week, The Hindu reported that the Prime Minister’s Office had conducted “parallel negotiations” with France in 2015 about the deal. The Ministry of Defence had reportedly objected to this development.
The Centre reportedly had also waived critical provisions for anti-corruption penalties and overruled the recommendations from financial advisors for an escrow account for the Prime Minister’s Office days before signing the deal, it was reported on Monday.