In France for a three-day visit, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today refuted Congress allegations that she has gone on a cover-up exercise and insisted that the government had no part in the selection of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as a joint venture partner in the Rafale deal. It was choice of the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), in this case Dassault, whom they want as their offset partner, she said.
“It is a government to government agreement between the French and Indian governments and there is no name mentioned and this offset obligation maybe mandatory, but the names of the company are not mandatory for me,” the minister told NDTV in Paris.
“As for the visit to Dassault, it is an invitation and also I’m a buyer, so I would definitely go and see,” added Ms Sitharaman, who is expected to visit the Dassault unit where Rafale fighter jets are being manufactured for India.
The Congress allegations about irregularities in the deal had got sharper after a French media report yesterday said the aerospace major had to select Anil Ambani’s company for the joint venture as a “mandatory” trade-off to win the 59,000-crore deal.
Lending support to the claims initially made by former French president Francois Hollande, Mediapart reported that a Dassault officer, Loik Segalan, had explained to his staff at a presentation last year that the joint venture with Reliance Defence was “imperative and obligatory”. In face of denials from Dassault, Mediapart had stood by the story.
The Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the 36-aircraft deal, saying the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs. 1,670 crore as against Rs. 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating the deal.
Hours after the report made headlines, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi tweeted:
The #GreatRafaleCoverUp has begun. To try and show the deal is legit, Raksha Mantri will need to generate minutes of imaginary meetings held between the French & our MOD & both sides will need to agree on a common story to be spun to the media.
RM left for France last night.
– Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) October 11, 2018
He also levelled allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Narendra Modi – accusations that drew a sharp response from the BJP.
Mr Gandhi, the BJP said, was trying to make his political career by peddling lies on the Rafale fighter jet deal, said party spokesperson Sambit Patra.
Calling Rajiv Gandhi – former Prime Minister and Rahul Gandhi’s father – “an official middleman in another deal”, Mr Patra said, “Dassault has agreed to the 50 per cent offset, it is mandatory, it was a norm set by Congress”.