New Delhi: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi this morning ignored a threat to sue by the Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Defence Limited, reiterating in a series of sarcastic tweets his party's allegation that the company has been picked to partner French firm Dassault in an act of "crony capitalism."
"Self "Reliance" is obviously a critical aspect of "Make in India," Rahul Gandhi tweeted and also, "Can you explain "Reliance" on someone with nil experience in aerospace for Rafale deal?"
Mr Gandhi also took a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who he has in the past accused of running a "suit-boot ki sarkar" or government for the rich. "Modi ji - nice touch removing the suit. What about the loot?" the Congress vice president tweeted, attaching a report on his party's allegations on the Rafale deal.
The Congress has accused the government of causing "insurmountable loss" to the public exchequer with its deal for the supply of 36 Rafale fighter jets by Dassault to the Indian Air Force. The opposition party says the BJP government has agreed to pay for each Rafale aircraft, three times the price that was negotiated in 2012 by the previous UPA government it led.
Under a clause of the government's Rafale deal with the French company to promote "Make in India," Reliance Defence has entered a joint venture with Dassault to manufacture aircraft components. The Congress has alleged that that the government has promoted "the interests of one industrial group, i.e Reliance Defence Limited, which has led to the company tying up and entering into a joint venture with Dassault Aviation worth Rs.30,000 crores?"
Reliance Defence has warned of legal action against the Congress if it does not retract the allegations. "Government policy issued on 24 June 2016 allows for 49% FDI in the Defence Sector under the automatic route, without any prior approval. No approvals from the Union Cabinet or CCS were required for the formation of the aforesaid Joint Venture company under the automatic route," the company said in a statement.
On Wednesday, France diplomatic sources emphatically rejected the Congress' allegation that the Narendra Modi government negotiated an overpriced deal with Dassault for the Rafale fighter jets. "This fighter jet has been selected for its outstanding performance and competitive price. It was selected through a fully transparent and competitive process," they said, describing the Congress' allegations as "a domestic political matter" that they would not like to enter.
The BJP has dismissed the Congress allegations as a "stunt" to deflect attention from the prospect of its top leaders, including Rahul Gandhi and his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi, being questioned in the AgustaWestland VVIP Chopper scam. "None of these stunts will work and the Congress must be ready to answer who took bribes in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal as the money trail is going to become known after the extradition of Carlos Gerosa," BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao told news agency PTI.
Rafale was the lowest bidder in an international tender in 2012, but the final deal for 126 aircraft was never closed by the UPA government. By the time the BJP-led government came to power in 2014, the deal was deadlocked, with Dassault refusing to certify key components of the jet which were to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, unless a series of conditions were met.
With no deal around the corner and with successive Air Chiefs telling the government that India's air defence would be seriously affected without the jets being inducted, PM Modi had announced an off-the-shelf purchase from France during a visit to Paris in April 2015.
The first Rafale jets are to be inducted into the Indian Air Force from 2019 onwards.