West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee on Thursday demanded an investigation into the missing Rafale deal files and asked the Centre to declare its stance on the matter. She was among several other Opposition leaders who made similar demands on Thursday.
“What farce is going on in the country?” Banerjee said in a tweet. “Documents are being stolen from the Ministry of Defence itself. This is a very dangerous situation for the country.”
The development came 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.
Earlier in the day, Congress President Rahul Gandhi 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.
Congress leader and former Union Minister P Chidambaram said the argument that they are stolen papers flies in the face of Article 19 of the Constitution.
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar described the Centre’s claim about the files as shocking, PTI reported. “If confidential papers are stolen, then what will be the situation on the security front,” Pawar told his party workers. “How can confidential papers go missing from the Ministry of Defence. It is clear now that the Rafale deal was done to benefit some people. Why did the government hide the theft from Parliament. The papers definitely had some important information.”
Bahujan Samaj Party Mayawati described the alleged theft as a result of “irresponsible chowkidari [guarding]”. “Is national security and interest in the safe hands? Think long and loud,” Mayawati said.
In another statement that followed, she described it as “most irresponsible, most unfortunate and shameful” and demanded a public apology from the government for “failing to ensure national security”. She demanded a Supreme Court-supervised inquiry into the matter.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav took a jibe at the Centre’s claim about the files and a public brawl between its lawmakers in Uttar Pradesh, PTI reported. “First there were parallel negotiations,” Yadav told reporters in Lucknow. “Then the [Rafale] files were stolen. Meanwhile in Uttar Pradesh, an MP and an MLA used shoes for dispute resolution at a meeting to discuss development. Now BJP workers are asking their leaders as to what campaign is on? The ‘jhooth [lies] and the boot’ or the ‘youth and the booth’?”
Yadav was referring to a fight between two Bharatiya Janata Party legislators from Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday, in which they beat each other up with shoes during an official meeting.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said the Centre’s statement is an attempt to “shut out” information on the matter. “Now that it has confirmed the veracity of these documents, it must bring out all the documents of the Rafale deal in public domain,” Yechury tweeted.
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.
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.