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A Congress delegation on Monday, September 24, met the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) to demand registration of a case in the alleged scam in the Rafale fighter jet deal.

The Congress had last week also approached 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 on Monday 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, Parmod Tiwari and Pranav Jha.

The Congress leaders 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.

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

“The deliberate enrichment of a private entity, ‘Reliance Defence’, at the cost of HAL, by award of a Rs 30,000 Cr ‘Offset Contract’, as also Rs 1,00,000 Cr ‘Life Cycle Contract’ without any tender and without following any mandatory requirement of the ‘Defence Procurement Procedure’ itself tells a story of stark ‘Crony Capitalism’ that needs to be investigated.”

India had been negotiating a deal to purchase 126 Rafale fighter aircraft from France under UPA government. Under the deal, which was in final stages of being concluded, while 18 aircraft were to be bought from France, the remaining were to be manufactured in India with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a new deal with France and said India would be getting 36 Rafale aircraft instead of the 126 planes planned earlier. In the new agreement, instead of building the jets with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the aircraft would be imported into India.

“The denial of ‘Make in India’ as also ‘Transfer of Technology’ to the PSU, HAL is intriguing and reeks of a concerted conspiracy,” the Congress said in its memorandum.

“The nearly 300% cost increase in the price of Rafale aircraft smacks of not only causing loss to the public exchequer in a malicious manner, but the acts of such omission and commission need to be investigated thoroughly,” the memorandum said.

The party also alleged that the number of aircraft was reduced without consulting the Indian Air Force.

“The stench of corruption and cronyism in the Rafale Deal is nauseating, requiring urgent intervention by your good self,” the memorandum from Congress leaders said.

The Congress and opposition parties accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi of corruption and violation of rules and are demanding answers from him and allege that the prime minister, the finance minister and the defence minister are “lying on the issue”.

The Rafale controversy flared up afresh 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.

Hollande told a French investigative website Mediapart on Friday that the Indian government had proposed Reliance Defence as the Indian partner of French defence giant Dassault, and that France did not have a choice in the matter.

Calling PM Modi a “thief”, Gandhi accused him of “personally delivering a deal worth billions of dollars to a bankrupt Anil Ambani” and that he has “betrayed India and has dishonoured the blood of our soldiers.”

Both the French government and Dassault Aviation have clarified in their respective statements that the pact for offset clause between Dassault and Reliance Defence was a private agreement between two companies, and neither government was involved in it.

While the Congress launched a fresh offensive following this, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, brushing off Congress attacks that citing Hollande’s claim that the Indian government favoured industrialist Anil Amabni’s Reliance Defence for the multi-million dollar contract, wrote in a blog post that “truth cannot have two versions”. Pointing to Hollande’s subsequent statements on the deal, Jaitley asserted that neither the Indian nor the French government played any role in the selection of Reliance Defence as the local partner by Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation.

“He has, in a subsequent statement, said that he is ‘not aware’ if Government ever lobbied for Reliance Defence and that ‘the partners chose themselves’,” Jaitley wrote. This, he said, “contradicts his first questionable statement which the French Government and Dassault have denied.”

The former French premier, when asked whether India had pressured Reliance and Dassault to work together, told news agency AFP that he was unaware and “only Dassault can comment on this”.

“His second statement in Montreal, Canada to AFP makes the veracity of his first statement even more questionable,” the Finance Minister said.

Jaitley’s claim, as the news portal The Wire and others pointed out, is wrong. The English-version of the AFP report is a trimmed-down copy of its French version, the latter of which Le Monde has published. The French copy includes an extra paragraph that states Reliance’s name appeared in the context of a new Rafale deal, which was decided by the Modi government after it came to power.

French version of AFP report: Interrogé par l’Agence France-Presse en marge d’une conférence qu’il donnait vendredi à Montréal, M. Hollande a souligné que le nom de Reliance Group était apparu dans le cadre de la « nouvelle formule » de négociations sur l’achat de Rafale, décidée par le gouvernement Modi après son arrivée au pouvoir.

English translation: “Asked by Agence-France Press on the sidelines of a conference in Montreal on Friday, Mr. Hollande said that the name of Reliance Group had appeared as part of a ‘new formula’ in negotiations over the Rafale deal, decided by the Modi government after it came to power.”

This lines up with Hollande’s earlier remark – that it was the Indian government that proposed Reliance as a partner – rather than contradicting it, as Jaitley claims.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi took on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s defence on the Rafale controversy, alleging that the BJP leader was “spinning lies” with “fake self-righteousness and indignation to defend the indefensible”. He reiterated the Congress demand for a joint parliamentary committee or JPC probe into Rafale fighter jet deal.

Congress leader P Chidambaram ridiculed the Narendra Modi government for refusing a probe into the Rafale deal after Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley discredited former French President Francois Hollande’s revelation on the choice of an offset partner.

“Truth cannot have two versions, says Finance Minister (Jaitley). Absolutely correct. Since, according to the Finance Minister, there are two versions, what is the best way to find out which version is ‘true’?” P Chidambaram said in a series of tweets.

“Either (1) order an inquiry or (2) toss a coin. I suppose the Finance Minister would prefer to toss a coin (preferably with ‘head’ on both sides),” he said in a tweet.

“It is a pity that the government does not see the inexorable flow of events and refuses to order an inquiry. Who knows what will happen in six months or 12 months,” the senior Congress leader also tweeted.

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