Political Slugfest Over Rafale Touches New Low as BJP Introduces Robert Vadra Angle

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday accused Rahul Gandhi of being involved in a “conspiracy, internationally” to sabotage the Rafale deal and benefit his brother-in-law Robert Vadra, even as the Congress chief called Prime Minister Narendra Modi “India’s commander-in-thief” in a veiled attack.

Claiming that Gandhi wanted the fighter jet deal scrapped to help a firm linked to Vadra, the BJP alleged that the Congress chief was involved in a “conspiracy, internationally” and former French president Francois Hollande was part of the “nexus” to sabotage the procurement.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Union minister Gajendra Shekhawat also hinted at Pakistan’s role in the conspiracy, saying one of its leaders, former interior minister Rehman Malik, has even tweeted that Gandhi will be the next Indian prime minister.

As allegations flew thick and fast, the Congress released a video showing Dassault CEO Eric Trappier telling a gathering at an event about “responsibility sharing” with HAL on the Rafale contract, indicating that it was almost finalised. The Congress claimed that the video was of March 2015, barely days ahead of the announcement of the deal. However, the veracity of the video could not be ascertained.

Questioning Modi, Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi asked, “What happened in a space of 17 days as Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced purchase of 36 Rafale jets on April 10, 2015, in Paris, abandoning Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) from the mega deal?”

The grand old party released another video of then foreign secretary S Jaishankar speaking at a press conference on April 8, 2015, that HAL was on board for the project.

However, the BJP rubbished Congress’s charges of wrongdoing and benefiting Reliance Defence Ltd in the deal.
Shekhawat, while referring to Hollande’s reported comments that the Indian government had proposed Anil Ambani’s firm as partner for Dassault Aviation, said: “How Rahul Gandhi and he are linked as part of a nexus and are trying to sabotage the deal needs to be understood.”

The minister added that there was a conspiracy to get the deal scrapped, defame the country and lower the morale of the Indian Air Force.

Responding to a question on whether Gandhi’s meetings with foreign leaders during his trips abroad was part of this “conspiracy”, Shekhawat said, “Definitely, yes.”

Earlier in the day, a delegation of senior Congress leaders met the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and demanded registration of a case in alleged corruption in the multi-billion dollar deal, saying it has now emerged as India’s biggest defence scam.

Gandhi also took to Twitter to post a video related to French publication Mediapart that carried a story last week quoting Hollande that Reliance Defence was proposed by the Indian government to partner with Dassault Aviation for the contract. “The sad truth about India’s Commander in Thief,” Gandhi said, in an apparent reference to Modi.

Addressing a meeting in his parliamentary constituency of Amethi, the Congress chief alleged that country’s “chowkidar” Modi snatched money from the poor martyrs and jawans and handed it over to Ambani.

Coming to the government’s defence, Union minister Prakash Javadekar termed Gandhi a “directionless leader” and said the Congress chief and his party have no hope to return to power and were thus trying to create a campaign on the basis of lies and speculations against the BJP government.

The senior BJP leader said in Jaipur that Gandhi had no facts and evidence against the government over the Rafale deal.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman spoke about an “international dimension” to Gandhi’s attack on the Prime Minister over the deal, and told reporters that Hollande’s comments were not a coincidence.

In Lucknow, home minister Rajnath Singh said after “clarifications” from Hollande, there was no room for any doubt in the matter. He also accused the Congress of trying to gain political mileage over the issue with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections next year.

There was a new twist in the Rafale controversy last week after Hollande, who was the French president when the Rs 58,000 crore deal was announced, was quoted as saying by Mediapart that France was given “no choice” in selecting the Indian partner for Dassault and the Indian government proposed the name of Reliance as offset partner.
Modi had announced the procurement of 36 Rafale fighters after holding talks with Hollande on April 10, 2015, in Paris.

A day later, when asked by AFP whether India had put pressure on Reliance and Dassault to work together, Hollande said he was unaware and “only Dassault can comment on this”.

Referring to Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s statements in Pakistan long ago that Modi needs to be removed as Prime Minister, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra drew a parallel between the opposition party and Pakistani leaders, saying “both want Modi removed from Indian politics”.

Reading out tweets attacking Modi that were posted by Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and present and former ministers, Patra said it looked like they had been campaigning for Gandhi.

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