New Delhi: The Congress on Monday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of misleading the Lok Sabha by not revealing the price of the Rafale fighter jets bought from France and indicated it could move a motion of breach of privilege against them.
“Deluding and misleading the people of India, the prime minister and the defence minister sought to lie on the floor of Parliament. Neither the revelation of the commercial cost of Rafale aircraft will violate any secrecy agreement with the French government nor will it reveal any classified or protected information,” former defence minister A.K. Antony and senior leader Anand Sharma told a press conference.
Party sources said that consultations will be held with legal experts and the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, will decide on moving a privilege motion against Modi and Sitharaman in a day or two.
Antony and Sharma referred to the discussion during the no-confidence motion against the NDA government in the Lok Sabha on July 20 and said the prime minister sought to “hide behind a cloak of pseudo nationalism” in the Rafale deal and said the truth was that the Modi government was “guilty of compromising national interest and national security”.
The two leaders said that “shoddy cover-up, self defeating assertions and deliberate lies were being dished out to divert, dupe and deceive”.
“Grave apprehensions and claims of insurmountable loss being caused to public exchequer stand exposed as government refuses to state the truth,” they said.
Rejecting the government contention that the deal was covered by a secrecy clause under which the price cannot be revealed, Antony said the agreement between the governments of India and France in 2008 during the UPA government does not mention that commercial cost of procurement of defence deals cannot be revealed.
“The scope of the agreement only extends to tactical and technical details of weaponry relating to the capability of the platform in question and its performance and tactics in combat and does not include commercial details and costs. It is clear that the prime minister and defence minister misled the nation,” Antony said.
Claiming that the per aircraft price of Rafale as per international bid in 2012 during UPA government came to Rs18,940 crore for 36 aircraft, the leaders said the Modi government purchased the same number of aircraft for Rs60,145 crore and asked BJP to explain the extra amount of Rs41,000 crore paid from public money. “This price is apparent from the ‘Annual Report, 2016’ of Dassault Aviation,” they said.
They contended that under the law, the government was bound to provide to full information to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence and the Comptroller and Director General of India (CAG) and asked why the Modi government was not disclosing the commercial cost of the deal.
Antony and Sharma referred to two replies given by the Defence Ministry in 2016 and 2018 in Parliament revealing the price to be approximately Rs670 crore per aircraft and asked why was the Defence Minister lying today.
They also quoted an interview given by French President Emmanuel Macron to a prominent news channel in India saying that if the Modi government wanted to disclose some of the details with the opposition, it can do so.
“Prime Minister Modi in Parliament took refuge in the statement released by the French government. Modi government must tell that the price of Rafale is not a secret, its specifications and weaponry are. The statement said the agreement ‘legally binds the two states to protect the classified information provided by the partner that could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipments of India and France’.”
The Congress asked where had the French government even said that the price of Rafale aircraft cannot be disclosed.
The two leaders also referred to answers given by the UPA government between 2010 and 2013 regarding the price of acquiring INS Vikramaditya, upgrade of Mirage aircraft, procurement of Sukhoi aircraft and development of Kaveri engine.