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Conspiracy Of Silence Over Rafale Deal: Congress

"I don't call Rafale a deal. It is a scam. And what the govt is doing and how it is trying to defend itself is nothing but a sham," Chaturvedi said.

Panaji, Aug 27

The Congress today accused the central government of stonewalling questions over the Rafale fighter deal, saying there was a “conspiracy of silence” and an attempt to “bypass the national interest”.

Party spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi also claimed that the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was not in the loop when the agreement to procure 36 fighter planes from France was signed in 2016 and demanded that he “break his silence” on the issue.

Addressing a press conference here on the issue which her party has been raising at various fora, Chaturvedi said Parrikar’s “silence amounts to agreement to the conspiracy that has betrayed the nation.”

She alleged that the Modi government had made “self- interest as its primary goal over the national interest.”

The spokesperson claimed that the union government had overpriced the aircraft, reduced the number of aircraft and taken the offset benefit away from a public sector company and handed it over to a “friendly” private company.

“I don’t call Rafale a deal. It is a scam. And what the government is doing and how it is trying to defend itself is nothing but a sham,” Chaturvedi said.

“There is a conspiracy of silence to hide the investigation or to take responsibility to carry out an investigation in a very open and shut case of how you can help your own people and bypass national interest,” she added.

She said Parrikar, now the Chief Minister of Goa, was not even present in France when the deal was signed.

“Forget presence, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had not even been prepared for the prime minister’s announcement (about the deal) and was caught off-guard. What we understand is that he (Parrikar) did not even know a deal has been negotiated, signed and agreed upon,” she said.

The Congress spokesperson said her party expects Parrikar, who held the defence portfolio from November 2014 to March 2017, to answer questions related to the deal.

She claimed that Parrikar knew that the norms of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) were “bypassed” and the procedure of the defence procurement was not followed.

Demanding answers to the questions, she said, Parrikar “continues to maintain silence” over the matter.

“Silence is also a conspiracy and an agreement to something that has betrayed the nation. I would hope that, perhaps, he will come forward and answer the questions. It (the deal) was happening under his watch…but he left that for someone else to do it,” Chaturvedi said.

She said that Parrikar, just days prior to the signing of the deal in September 2016, had gone on record to say that some terms of the contract were non-negotiable.

“And those are the very clauses that were negotiated on the table in France,” she claimed.

Chaturvedi said that in the original tender invited by the Congress-led UPA government for acquiring 126 multi-role fighter planes, two fighter aircraft – Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon – were found equal on all technical parameters.

In the financial bid round, Rafale became the lowest bidder and Eurofighter Typhoon “admittedly” wrote a letter dated July 4, 2014, to the then defence minister, offering to reduce the price by 20 per cent, she said.

Chaturvedi sought to know why both the companies were not asked to bid afresh through the Inter-governmental agreement route so as to arrive at the lowest price in favour of public interest.

The Congress spokesman said the NDA government is repeatedly stonewalling questions raised by the party about the deal, saying “there is a conspiracy of silence”.

Chaturvedi recalled the UPA government had negotiated for 126 jets, of which 18 were to come in fly-away condition and the rest through the transfer of technology route.

“They would have been manufactured by made-in-India public sector unit, that is Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. There would have been two benefits – we would have been making our own jets and the offset contract benefit worth Rs 36,000 crore would have gone to HAL,” the Congress spokesperson said.

She alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his France visit, changed the terms of the deal and the technology transfer clause was “thrown out of the window”.

Chaturvedi said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s statement in Parliament about a confidentiality clause in the Rafale deal was nothing but a “blatant lie”.

“When the UPA was negotiating the deal, it had shared the price of the aircraft,” she said.

The government has repeatedly rejected the Congress allegations about the deal.

Sitharaman has maintained that the deal was signed after following a transparent procedure and that the cost of each aircraft along with weapon systems was much lower than what was negotiated by the UPA government.

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