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The controversy over Rafale deal revived once again on Wednesday with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Congress led by Rahul Gandhi sparring over the issue.

Posing 15 questions to Congress party, Arun Jaitley had termed Congress’ charges on the deal to purchase Rafale fighter aircraft as “complete falsehood” and said the cost per aircraft under the deal finalised by Narendra Modi government was in fact much lower than that under the deal that was being negotiated by UPA government.

He also countered Congress’ allegation that the government had benefited Anil Ambani’s Reliance group, saying “Government of India has no contract whatsoever with any private industry in relation with the Rafale aircraft supplies.”

Jaitley accused Rahul Gandhi and Congress of “peddling untruth” on the Rafale fighter jet deal.

In response, Rahul Gandhi had announced the 24-hour challenge to Jaitley to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) into what he called the “great Rafale robbery”. He said he would wait for a response for 24 hours.

Unrelenting, he today posted a tart reminder to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley with six hours left in his 24-hour deadline to set up an all-party lawmakers’ panel.

Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Dear Mr Jaitley, Less than 6 hrs left for your deadline on the #Rafale JPC to run out. Young India is waiting. I hope you’re busy convincing Modi Ji and Anil Ambani Ji about why they should listen to you & approve this! @ArunJaitley”

The Congress president also attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Anil Ambani, without naming the Reliance Group chairman. He accused PM Modi of “protecting his friend”:

“Mr Jaitley, thanks for bringing the nation’s attention back to the GREAT #RAFALE ROBBERY! How about a Joint Parliamentary Committee to sort it out? Problem is, your Supreme Leader is protecting his friend, so this may be inconvenient. Do check & revert in 24 hrs. We’re waiting!”

Later, BJP president Amit Shah joined in the sparring, describing JPC as ‘Jhoothi Party Congress’ and accusing Rahul Gandhi of pushing “lies” to fool the nation. “But the nation’s IQ is higher than yours!” he tweeted.

At the core of the controversy is the allegation levelled by Rahul Gandhi that the price of the jets is higher than what was negotiated by the previous Congress-led government for 126 aircraft. He also alleges that the deal was sealed at a higher price at a loss to the taxman to favour “a businessman”.

Anil Ambani has rejected Rahul Gandhi’s allegations and emphasised that the government had no role in the Rafale-manufacturing French firm Dassault picking up his company as a local partner.

Jaitley alleged that “Rahul Gandhi’s misadventure” was seriously compromising national security. “This is like a kindergarten or primary school debate ‘Well, I was paying 500 something and you’ve paid 1,600 something’. That’s the argument being given; it shows how little understanding Rahul Gandhi has,” Arun Jaitley told news agency ANI. “Every single word in the Congress’s allegation is factually false,” he said.

Congress has dismissed finance minister Arun Jaitley’s defence of Rafale deal as “an obvious attempt at obfuscation” when his government was faced with the Reserve Bank of India data on demonetisation.

AICC spokesperson Manish Tewari on Wednesday said the finance minister should, instead, simply answer two questions: Since the joint statement by Prime Minister of India and President of France “states the Rafale aircraft and associated system and weapons will be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by Indian Air Force”, why can’t the government state whether IAF at all re-evaluated the aircraft specifications since UPA closed negotiations and before the Modi regime purchased Rafale in 2015 and “why can’t the government simply release the price at which it purchased the Rafale jets in 2015 and the price at which the UPA government had closed the negotiations in 2012?”

Secondly, the Congress asked Jaitley, “If the prime minister, the finance minister and the non-functioning defence minister have nothing to hide on the Rafale deal, why was the government shying away from accepting the opposition demand to constitute a JPC to probe the Rafale matter?”

Tewari questioned the timing of Jaitley’s offensive. He said the timing of Jaitley’s defence of Rafale “exactly at that point in time when the RBI was releasing demonetisation data… it would not be remiss to say that the Finance Minister was trying to cover up one scandal with another scandal”.

“This is a very funny government,” Tewari alleged. “The FM speaks on defence affairs, the non-functioning defence minister holds forth on finance affairs. The FM writes blog on legal matters and law minister holds forth on many issues in a manner that only he understands what he meant. And the railway minister doubles up as FM. Collectively, responsibility in this government is such that no minister has responsibility of his ministry’s matters.”

Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma rejected Jaitley’s contention that the government had nothing to do with the selection of partners for offset supplies. He said vendors have to disclose how the offset contracts would be discharged under the defence procurement policy.

“You left out HAL, violated the Official Secrets Act, did not seek the mandate of CCS and conducted no price determination for reducing the aircraft purchase from 126 to 36 aircraft. So there should be a probe into this. They may deny whatever, but the truth will come out,” Sharma said.

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