Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said the government’s claim that unfavourable news reports about the Rafale fighter jet deal were based on “missing documents” means those files are authentic. He said the government can investigate how the files went missing, but should also act on those implicated in them.

Gandhi was addressing reporters a day after the Centre told the Supreme Court that petitions seeking a review of its December verdict on the Rafale deal should be dismissed as they are based on documents “stolen” from the Defence Ministry. The government had said news outlets that put them out in public had breached the Official Secrets Act.

In December 2018, the top court had dismissed the need for an inquiry into the India-France deal, but reports by The Hindu since then have raised new allegations about the role of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Gandhi said: “If you are saying the documents are missing, you are admitting that they are genuine. And the documents clearly say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted parallel negotiations, and the Indian negotiating team clearly said that Modi conducted a ‘bypass surgery’.”

Gandhi said the media was being punished because it was being brave. He asked that if Modi was not guilty, why he had not agreed to an investigation by a Joint Parliamentary Committee. The Congress has repeatedly sought an inquiry by a Parliamentary panel instead of by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

“It’s a blatant case of corruption, it is clearly stated that the PM of India is carrying out a parallel negotiation,” Gandhi said. “Why should there not be a criminal investigation? The problem in India is there is a criminal investigation only on people who oppose PM Modi. Basically, everything possible is done to safeguard Narendra Modi.”

On Wednesday, the Congress had said a case should be filed against Modi under the Prevention of Corruption Act for alleged misuse of office in connection with the deal.

On February 8, The Hindu reported that the Ministry of Defence had in 2015 objected to “parallel negotiations” conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office with France when the two countries were discussing the deal in 2015.

“Why were there parallel negotiations?” Gandhi asked. “There must have been some reason. The reason was that Modiji wanted to give [businessman] Anil Ambani Rs 30,000 crore.”

The Congress has accused the government of overpaying for the fighter aircraft and claimed that the deal has benefited Anil Ambani, whose company Reliance Defence was chosen to fulfil the offset obligations in the deal.

In response, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told ANI he condemned the “blatant lies” of Rahul Gandhi. “He doesn’t believe the Indian Air Force, he doesn’t believe the Supreme Court, he doesn’t believe the CAG [Comptroller and Auditor General]. Does he want to believe Pakistan? He is inadvertently or deliberately playing into hands of Rafale competitors.”

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General on the Rafale deal was tabled in Parliament in February. The report said the deal signed in 2016 by the Narendra Modi government to buy 36 fighter jets from France was 2.86% cheaper than the offer made to the previous government in 2007. The Congress had dismissed the report, calling it an “eyewash”.

Rahul Gandhi says PM is Pakistan’s real poster boy

Gandhi also countered Modi’s taunts at the Opposition by calling him the “poster boy of Pakistan” because he hugged former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and “invited” Inter-Services Intelligence to Pathankot after the Indian Air Force station was attacked, PTI reported. Modi had called the Opposition “poster boys of Pakistan” for demanding proof that the Indian Air Force conducted strikes on a terror camp in Balakot.

“He is the Pakistan’s poster boy, not us,” Hindustan Times reported. “Who visited Pakistan for a wedding in Nawaz Sharif’s family? Who invited Inter-Services Intelligence team to Pathankot? So then, who is the poster boy of Pakistan?”