Stepping up his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said former French President Francois Hollande has called him a “thief” in the Rafale deal and sought a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the agreement to purchase 36 fighter jets from France.
Addressing a press conference a day after Hollande had said that the French government had no role in making a private Indian firm get the offset contract, he questioned Modi’s silence and asked him to come clean on whether Hollande was telling the truth or not.
“Now what the ex-President of France is saying is that the Prime Minister of India is a thief. That is what the statement is saying. It is very important for the PM now to either accept Hollande’s statement and say that he is telling the truth or that Hollande is not telling the truth and here is the truth,” Gandhi said.
Gandhi alleged it is “for the first time probably in the Indian history an ex-President is calling our PM a thief and said Modi should make his position very clear.”
“It is the question of dignity of office of PM, it is a question related to defence, future of our jawans, Air Force. What I am surprised by is that the PM is completely silent. Not one word has come out from the PM’s mouth after this comment. After all, this gentleman is the ex-president of France who had a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister where the Rafale contract was decided,” Gandhi said.
Referring to Modi having earlier described himself as a “chowkidar (watchman)” Gandhi said he had given a “free gift” of Rs 30,000 crore to his industrialist friend.
“We are absolutely convinced that PM of India is corrupt. This question is now clearly settled in the minds of the India people that the country’s watchman is a thief. This has gone in the minds of the people.”
Gandhi began by reading out remarks of Hollande to a French website Mediapart in which he does not mention Modi directly.
It interviewed Hollande on phone in which he said: “I intervened in this affair (Rafale) with the two prime ministers, to say that I was keen for this negotiation. Initially, the deal was supposed to be for 126 planes. Then when the government changed, the Indians reformulated their proposition, less attractive for us because it was for 36 aircraft only. But the manufacturing was planned to be in France. Contrary to the preceding proposition, we lost on the one hand and gained on the other.”
Asked about the French Government stating that it was not involved in selecting the offset partner, Gandhi said: “It is very clear that the French government has given a statement that is stating what the procedures (are).”
“Here there was one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister and the President of France. In that meeting the contract was signed. And the ex-President of France has said that in that meeting I was clearly told that the contract had to go to Mr Ambani. It is now up to the Prime Minister of India to clear his name.”
Gandhi said he was trying to help the Prime Minister and asking him to give a statement. “I want to save the dignity of his office and tell the people that what Hollande had said is not correct. But you are still unable to speak.”
Asked if the party will seek Modi’s resignation, Gandhi said that ministers of the Modi government were speaking “lies” to protect the Prime Minister.
Referring to his speech in parliament during the no-confidence motion, Gandhi said he had mentioned about his meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and claimed that the French leader had stated that the price of the Rafale fighter jet was not part of the secrecy agreement and it could be revealed.
He said the Rafale aircraft was negotiated for Rs 526 crore by the UPA government but purchased for Rs 1600 crore by the Modi government.
Gandhi said youth had faith in Modi. “He took the money out of your pocket, from the pockets of all defence personnel. You had reposed faith in the Prime Minister and he has broken that.”
He said the offsets contract was taken away from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and one of its former officials had contradicted Defence Minister Sitharaman’s claim about the ability of the organisation to build Rafale jets.