New Delhi, Jan 5:
In a fiery “point-by-point” rebuttal to Congress’’s charges on the Rafale deal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday accused it of spreading “falsehood” on the issue and said while the Bofors scam brought the party down, Rafale will help Prime Minister Narendra Modi retain power.
Wrapping up a rancorous debate in Lok Sabha, Sitharaman, in her over two-hour speech, also accused the Congress of stalling the contract during its rule because it “didn’’t get the money”, asserting that there was a difference between a defence deal and dealing in defence.
Immediately after she began her reply, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge demanded that the prime minister should come to the House and respond on the issue. Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, however, rejected his demand and said only “she will reply”.
“Bofors was a scam, Rafale is not. Bofors brought you (Congress) down. Rafale will bring Modi back to (power) to have a new and transforming India and remove corruption which is stinking around the Congress,” Sitharaman, the first full-time woman defence minister of India, said.
Forcefully rejecting charges of corruption in the Rs 58,000 crore deal for procurement of 36 Rafale jets from France, she also said, “Defence Ministry has been functioning without dalals (middlemen) during five years of (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. Rafale is a decision in national interest.” The Congress has been targeting Modi on the deal alleging that price of each aircraft was sharply hiked from around Rs 526 crore, negotiated under deal during UPA, to Rs 1,600 crore and that the contract will help Anil Ambani get Rs 30,000 crore benefit through offset contract.
Sitharaman also slammed Congress President Rahul Gandhi for accusing Modi of “lying” on the deal and alleged that the procurement procedure for 126 Rafale negotiated under the UPA government did not fructify as “it didn’’t suit” Congress and it “didn’’t get the money”.
“The Congress is spreading falsehood on Rafale,” she said and even referred to the Supreme Court’’s ruling last month giving a clean chit to the government on the decision-making process of the deal.
After Sitharaman’’s address, Gandhi said she gave a long speech but did not answer any of his questions on the deal and “ran away”. He said if the Congress comes to power in 2019, a criminal investigation will be launched into the deal and those found guilty will be punished.
In her speech, the defence minister said, “The Congress did not intend buying the jets. For every ‘’AA’’ there is a ‘’Q’’ and ‘’RV’’,” apparently referring to Robert Vadra and also Ottavio Quattrocchi, the alleged middleman in the Bofors scam. Gandhi has been referring to Anil Ambani as ‘’AA’’.
Taking a jibe at the Gandhi family, she also said, “I do not have the benefit of the ‘’khandan tag’’” while invoking her humble middle class background as well as of Modi’’s poor economic past.
“Nobody has a right to call me or the prime minister a thief and a liar,” said a visibly angry Sitharaman.