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Congress dials Sharad Pawar over Rafale remarks

Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on Friday spoke to Pawar, who had in a way contradicted party president Rahul Gandhi’s repeated finger-pointing at the Prime Minister.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s statement that people may not doubt Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “personal integrity” in the context of the Rafale fighter jet deal has not just triggered a crisis in his party, but also left the Congress worried. Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on Friday spoke to Pawar, who had in a way contradicted party president Rahul Gandhi’s repeated finger-pointing at the Prime Minister.

Targeting the Prime Minister, Rahul has even alleged that the nation’s ‘chowkidar’ (watchman) is a thief.

Kharge, the AICC general secretary in-charge of Maharashtra, called Pawar and inquired about his statement that has now created a controversy. Pawar told Kharge that he did not support the Prime Minister in any way.

Kharge told The Indian Express that the controversy will not affect the Congress’s ties with the NCP. “This is not a controversy. He told me that he too has demanded a JPC and questioned how the price of the fighter jet increased. He is questioning it in his own way… people have a way of speaking… ultimately the point is he is not supporting the government view or the PM…” Kharge said.

Pawar, Kharge said, told him that he had in the interview questioned how the price of Rafale has doubled as compared to the deal negotiated by the UPA government. Pawar told Kharge that he also spoke about how in the late 1980s, the then government had acceded to the opposition’s demand for a JPC probe into the Bofors issue and that the government should form a JPC to come out clean. Pawar also clarified to Kharge about his statement that people may not doubt Modi’s “personal integrity”. “He told me there was a question on whether Modi is corrupt… and he only said ‘how can at this stage….I can’t say that…but you constitute a JPC everything will come out’.”

AICC communication department head Randeep Surjewala, too, said reports that Pawar has given a “clean chit” to the Prime Minister in the Rafale deal were “false and unfounded”. The NCP too said Pawar has not given a “clean chit to anybody”.

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