Starting on August 25, Congress leaders will fan out across the country to “inform the people” about alleged irregularities in the deal to purchase Rafale fighter aircraft from the French military planemaker Dassault Aviation, and hold nationwide protests.
The decision was taken at a meeting chaired by Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday, in a follow-up to discussions by the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on August 4. At that meeting, the Congress had decided to launch a “Jan Andolan (people’s movement)” on the Rafale deal and multiple bank frauds to target the Prime Minister and his party ahead of year-end state elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
A core team comprising senior Congress leaders and six party spokespersons — S Jaipal Reddy, Arjun Modhwadia, Shaktisinh Gohil, Pawan Khera, Priyanka Chaturvedi and Jaiveer Shergill — has been picked to spearhead the campaign.
“In the next 30 days, Congress workers will fan out and hold demonstrations in districts and states on the Rafale issue. CWC members, general secretaries, in-charges of states, secretaries and others will go from block to state level and demand a fair and independent probe into the deal,” Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala told reporters after the meeting.
“We want the government to immediately constitute a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the Rafale scam. We will push the government, we will not stop, we will not be deterred and we will continue to push for ensuring that the Rafale scam and corruption scams are exposed,” he said.
The National Democratic Alliance’s decision to enter a government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafael warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafael aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. The UPA deal, struck in 2012, was not a viable one, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar has said. The deal has also become controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault was with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani and the opposition. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity. Both the government and Reliance have denied this.
Sniffing an electoral opportunity in the Rafale deal, the Congress has been relentlessly keeping up the heat on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Alleging that it is “the corruption of the century”, Gandhi has been claiming that the deal was aimed at bailing out “debt-ridden corporate cronies” of the Prime Minister.
Citing figures, Gandhi has claimed that the Modi government was buying each aircraft at a cost of Rs 1,670 crore when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime had finalised a price of Rs 570 crore per aircraft in 2012.
Political analysts concede the Rafale deal is a key issue but point out that the Congress would have to highlight people-centric matters such as price rise to win over voters. “Rafale will definitely give them [the Congress] some traction in the media and draw the attention of opinion makers. But this is not enough. They need to talk about price rise that has a bigger relevance from the public point of view and makes a significant difference in elections,” said Delhi-based political analyst N Bhaskara Rao.