Ready to discuss Rafale in House, want JPC too: Congress

The Congress is ready for a discussion in Parliament on the Rafale issue but won’t give up its demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the deal, a senior party functionary said on Tuesday.

Congress member KC Venugopal and Sankar Prasad Datta of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have given a notice for a discussion on Wednesday in the Lok Sabha on issues related to the Rafale deal under Rule 193 that does not entail voting.

The notice has been included in the Lok Sabha’s list of business for Wednesday.

Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge told the House on Monday that his party was ready for a debate on the issue after the government accused it of evading one.

The remarks were widely interpreted as a climbdown by the Congress, which has until now insisted on a JPC to probe the jet fighter deal before discussing the issue in Parliament.

However, the party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala maintained that the Congress remained firm on its demand for setting up a JPC to probe the deal and the debate in Parliament will have no bearing on the party’s stand.

“The demand for JPC to examine the corruption in Rafale deal remains the sole uncompromising guiding path for the entire opposition,” he asserted.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has been at the forefront of the party’s onslaught on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the issue, is expected to participate in the short duration discussion.

The NDA government’s decision to buy 36 fighter aircraft from France under a government-to-government deal has been targeted by the Congress and others who allege there are three issues with it: one, due process wasn’t followed; two, the price at which the aircraft are being bought is much higher than one which the previous UPA government had negotiated; and three, the old deal was scrapped and a new one signed so that Reliance Defence, a company promoted by Anil Ambani could benefit from an offset deal with Rafale maker Dassault Aviation.

The government has maintained that it followed due process, that the price at which it bought the aircraft is lower but can’t be disclosed on account of security considerations, and that offset deals are struck between the equipment maker and the local partner with the government having no role to play in it.

On December 14, the Supreme Court, hearing petitions for a court-monitored investigation of the deal said it was satisfied that due process was followed, that the issue of pricing is beyond the court’s purview, and that the government has nothing to do with offset deals.

The Congress, however, has continued to press for a JPC.

The BJP, in business advisory council meetings, maintained that it was ready for a debate on the issue but only under Rule 193, and not Rule 184 which calls for a vote.

Gandhi made the Rafale issue one of his key campaign points in the recent assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram. He is likely to keep up the attack on the ruling side in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as well.

“If there is no wrong, why is the Modi government running scared of the JPC, which will have a majority of the members from the ruling National Democratic Alliance? This proves that the government seeks to hoodwink its own members from discovering the truth behind the murky Rafale deal,” Surjewala added.

The assessment within the Congress is that the discussion on the Rafale issue will give an opportunity for the combined opposition to corner the government in Parliament ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

On the other hand, the government, by conceding the demand for a debate, will project that it has nothing to hide. BJP members are expected to raise the alleged corruption in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal to counter the Congress.

Opening after a two-week Christmas break, the Supreme Court is likely to take up the defence ministry’s application seeking clarification in the Rafale judgment. Some mistakes crept into the judgment, particularly with respect to the government’s submissions on sharing pricing details of the jets with the Comptroller and Auditor General and its subsequent examination by the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament.

First Published: Jan 02, 2019 00:16 IST

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