A day after the Centre told the Supreme Court that files related to the Rafale defence deal had “gone missing” from the defence ministry, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday said the inquiry into it should begin with Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar.
“Like the government has disappeared from Goa, the [Rafale] files, too are missing,” Gandhi said while addressing party workers in Goa. Parrikar was defence minister when the deal was signed. On Thursday, Attorney General KK Venugopal said that media reports that published secret Rafale documents were based on files “stolen” from the Ministry of Defence.
“If you want to inquire, start with [Manohar] Parrikar because he had said the files were with him,” Gandhi said on Friday. Gandhi was referring to an alleged conversation Parrikar had with minister Vishwajit Rane in which he had made these claims, an audio tape of which the Congress released in January. Rane and Parrikar had denied the tape was authentic. The tape was never investigated.
Gandhi added that Parrikar allegedly blackmailed Modi with the files and threatened to publicise them if he was removed as chief minister.
The Congress has been critical of the functioning of the Goa government since Parrikar was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year. The party has also demanded an FIR be filed against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with alleged corruption in the Rafale deal.
Doing a volte face on Friday, Attorney General KK Venugopal claimed that the Rafale files were not stolen from the government, and that petitioners seeking a review of the Supreme Court’s verdict had used “photocopies of the original papers.”
“I am told that the opposition has alleged what was argued [in the Supreme Court] was that files had been stolen from the Defence Ministry,” he said. “This is wholly incorrect. The statement that files have been stolen is wholly incorrect.”
Venugopal had on Thursday told the Supreme Court that the documents used by The Hindu for its recent stories on the Rafale deal – and which the petitioners seeking the investigation have cited – were stolen from the defence ministry. Since the newspaper possibly violated the Official Secrets Act by using these documents for its stories, the attorney general had added, the court should not rely on these documents.
The government had also informed the court that an investigation is under way into the stolen documents.
Venugopal’s statement had led to a political row, with several Opposition leaders demanding a probe into the missing files.