Rafale issue a 'perception battle, will fight Congress at all levels: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Congress has dubbed Rafale jet deal as India`s "biggest Defence scam".

Rafale issue a 'perception battle, will fight Congress at all levels: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman
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NEW DELHI: While the political slugfest over the Rafale fighter jet deal continues, Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday termed the Opposition mudslinging and counter-attack by the government as a ''perception battle.''

The Defence Minister also vowed to fight the Rafale deal tussle at all levels, while alleging that the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress party was running a smear campaign to tarnish the image of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the international level.

"This is a perception battle. We'll go to places and state facts on record on Rafale. Congress designs to run a smear campaign against us at an international level. This is an attempt to malign our reputation," Sitharaman said.

Adding a fresh twist to the Rafale row, the ruling BJP on Monday dragged UPA chief Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra's name, alleging that the latter was keen to get the defence deal to help his businessman friend.

The allegations were made by Union Minister and senior BJP leader Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, who said that Vadra wanted to help his friend Sanjay Bhandari so the previous UPA government led by the Congress party wanted to seal the Rafale defence deal with France.

“The UPA regime wanted to use the firms of Robert Vadra and Sanjay Bhandari as middlemen in procuring the Rafale deal. But when it could not do so, the Congress party is now trying to take revenge by maligning the NDA government by alleging corruption in the Rafale jet deal,'' Shekhawat said.

Addressing a press conference, the Union Minister further said that Bhandari and Vadra are close friends and the duo has been seen at various defence expo in the recent past.

As the blame game over the Rafale deal continued, the sources on Monday said that the government is not likely to accept the Opposition demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the multi-crore defence deal.

Highly placed government sources told Zee News that the Centre is in no mood to call a JPC probe into the Rafale controversy despite extreme pressure from the Congress-led Opposition.

An indication in this regard came from none other than the Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, who said that there is no room for doubt after former French president Francois Hollande's 'clarification' on the Rafale deal.

"After clarifications from Hollande, there is no room for any doubt about the deal. The Congress is making it an issue to gain political mileage in 2019 Lok Sabha polls," Singh said.

Hollande, who was French president when the Rs 58,000 crore deal was announced, was quoted as saying by French publication 'Mediapart' that France was given "no choice" on the selection of the Indian partner for Dassault and the Indian government proposed the name of Reliance as offset partner for the French aerospace giant.

Singh also accused the Congress of trying to gain political mileage over the issue with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections next year.

"The Opposition does not have any issue left so it is raking up Rafale deal issue," the Home Minister told reporters after a meeting of the Central Zonal Council here.

The development came shortly after a delegation of senior Congress leaders met the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and demanded registration of a case in alleged corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal.

A Congress delegation had earlier met the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and urged the apex auditor to prepare a report on the alleged irregularities in the deal and present it in Parliament.

The delegation met CVC KV Chowdary and submitted a detailed memorandum, accusing the government of causing loss to the public exchequer and endangering national security by bypassing state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in favour of some businessman "friends" for offset contract.

"Rafale scam has now emerged as India's biggest defence scam. Tracks of corruption are getting unravelled by the day with repeated disclosures getting no answers from the Defence Ministry of the Government of the day. The stench of corruption and cronyism in the Rafale deal is nauseating, requiring urgent intervention by your goodself," the Congress memorandum to the CVC said.

The memorandum said that as per law, the government is bound to provide full information to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), "entire deal, its contours, nature of contract, absence of favouritism, corruption, crony capitalism, violation of law and procedures and the principles of level playing field are part of CVC's domain to examine and to return a finding".

"The government is bound to disclose the price of 36 aircraft to scrutiny by CVC in light of the serious allegations of corruption and loss of money to the public exchequer.

"We, therefore, request the CVC to undertake its statutory duty by examining record threadbare, so that corruption, crony capitalism, violation of law and procedure and loss to the public exchequer is brought out as the earliest," it further said. 

The delegation comprised senior Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma, Kapil Sibal, Randeep Singh Surjewala, Jairam Ramesh, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Manish Tewari, Vivek Tankha, Pramod Tiwari and Pranav Jha.

Singhvi later told reporters that there are no answers with the government to various questions raised on the deal and no one is telling why the whole procedure took place in a reverse order.

"Why was a contract of Rs 30,000 crore given to a company that is on the verge of bankruptcy? How can they sideline a company like HAL?" he said.

Congress leader Anand Sharma said, "We have urged the CVC to take cognisance of the memorandum submitted by us and we urged CVC to seal all files and documents and register an FIR."

Terming it as the century's "biggest scam", he said the decision of the deal was taken by the prime minister and the Cabinet Committee on Security was not informed about it. 

The Congress has alleged that the fresh deal for Rafale fighter jets was inked by the Narendra Modi dispensation at a cost much higher than what was negotiated by the previous government led by it.

The Congress has launched an offensive against the BJP government over the Rafale deal, alleging corruption and violation of rules by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and demanded answers from him.

It has also accused the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister and the Defence Minister of "lying on the issue".

The Rafale controversy took a turn last week after former French president Francois Hollande claimed that the Indian government proposed Reliance Defence's name as the offset partner for Dassault Aviation.

PM Modi had announced the procurement of 36 Rafale fighters after holding talks with Hollande on April 10, 2015, in Paris.

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