'Rafale scam' a direct deal between Modi and failed industrialist: Congress

The Congress party on Tuesday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of behaving like a 'medieval monarch' in getting a failed Indian industrialist the contract to manufacture Rafale fighter jets. The Congress also alleged that Modi-led Prime Minister's Office (PMO) connived to help jeweller Mehul Choksi escape from India.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was yet to react to these allegations at the time of filing of this report. Congress spokesperson S Jaipal Reddy, who heads the subgroup of the party to study the Rafale fighter jet deal, alleged that the 'Rafale scam' was a 'direct deal between PM Modi and the industrialist', whose only distinction is that he has 'spectacularly failed as an industrialist'.

Over the past few days, Congress party leaders have fanned out across the country to hold press conferences on the 'Rafale scam'. Reddy alleged that since Modi announced the deal in Paris, and in the spirit of 17th century French monarch Louis XIV, who famously said 'I am the State', the Indian PM also behaved like a 'medieval monarch' to ignore all defence procurement procedures to snatch away the Rafale deal from the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to gift it to a particular industrialist with no experience in defence manufacturing.

Reddy said the price negotiation committee was not consulted, the cabinet committee on security was not consulted. “We do not know whether the Air Force was consulted?” Reddy asked. On the argument that the French have supported India on crucial junctures and the deal was a strategic decision, Reddy said it was a global tender to purchase the fighter jets and the price and specifications are the only concern. “We don’t mix foreign relations with financial decisions. That only monarch can, prime ministers cannot. The PM is accountable to Parliament. He can be summoned before the Public Accounts Committee,” he said.

On legal notices to Congress spokespersons, Reddy said Congress spokespersons were not afraid of legal notices. “Let them carry out the threats or let the government file a suit against us so that all the facts would come out in a civil suit,” he said.

On the issue of jeweller Choksi, who has acquired the citizenship of Antigua and Barbuda, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said the PMO overlooked the complaints against the jeweller and connived in his escape from India. Choksi is an accused in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud.

Khera said 10-months before Choksi fled India, he applied to get his citizenship changed. Khera said the Ministry of External Affairs sought the PMO’s advice on Choksi’s application to get Antigua and Barbuda’s citizenship, and whether any charges were pending against him. Khera said PMO was “suspiciously silent” on complaints against Choksi pending with various investigating agencies.