In his Lok Sabha speech, Rahul Gandhi attacked PM Modi and said ‘entire nation’ was asking him a direct question on the Rafale fighter jets deal. (File photo)
Escalating his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the the Rafale deal issue, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi Thursday said it seems the PM has "fled" his "open book Rafale exam" in Parliament and is instead lecturing students in Punjab. Gandhi's attack came a day after he said Modi faced an open book exam on the deal in Parliament and asked if he will show up at the exam or send a proxy. The Congress president had on Wednesday also tweeted four questions related to the Rafale deal and demanded answers from the prime minister.
"So it seems our PM has fled Parliament & his own open book Rafale exam & is instead lecturing students at Lovely University in Punjab, today," Gandhi tweeted on Thursday. He also urged students at the university to ask the prime minister to answer the four questions posed by him.
So it seems our PM has fled Parliament & his own open book Rafale exam & is instead lecturing students at Lovely Univ. in Punjab, today.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) January 3, 2019
I request the students there to, respectfully, ask him to please answer the 4 questions posed to him by me, yesterday. #RafaleScam
Gandhi had tweeted, "Here are the exam questions in advance: Q1. Why 36 aircraft, instead of the 126 the IAF needed? Q2. Why 1,600 Cr instead of 560 Cr per aircraft. Q4. Why AA instead of HAL? Will he show up? Or send a proxy?" He later tweeted another question, terming it as "The Missing Q3!". In the third question, he asked the prime minister to tell why former defence minister Manohar Parrikar keeps a Rafale file in his bedroom and what's in it.
On Wednesday, the Opposition and the government were involved in a bitter war of words on the Rafale issue in the Lok Sabha, with Rahul Gandhi saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi "does not have the guts" to face questions in Parliament and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley accusing the Congress chief of peddling "lies" and "falsehood".
The Lower House witnessed frequent adjournments as barbs flew from both sides and Opposition members tried to disrupt speeches of rival leaders during a nearly three-hour debate. The discussions ended abruptly midway after Speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 24 AIADMK members for five days due to the "grave disorder" they caused with their protests in the Well of the House.
In an embarrassment to the Modi government, its ally Shiv Sena also supported the Opposition's demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale deal. Following Gandhi's hard-hitting attack on the government, Jaitley led the government's charge in a counter-attack as he referred to alleged defence scams during the Congress rule and said the "conspirators" of past defence scams had the "audacity" to target the Modi dispensation.
He also ruled out a JPC probe, a demand made by most Opposition leaders including Gandhi, saying there was no need for it as the Supreme Court had already satisfied its "conscience" on the issue. Targeting Gandhi, the BJP leader said he would have played in the lap of 'Q', an apparent reference to Ottavio Quattrocchi -- allegedly involved in the Bofors case.
Jaitley also mentioned the recent disclosure allegedly made by AgustaWestland accused Christian Michel and referred to terms like "Mrs G" and "the Italian lady" and "her son" to attack the Congress leadership. Attacking Gandhi, he said, "There are some people who have a natural dislike for the truth. Every word spoken for the last six months on this subject, including in this House (by them), are false....He has a legacy of speaking falsehood."
The House also witnessed high drama after Gandhi sought the speaker's permission to play an audio tape, purportedly of a Goa minister, on the Rafale deal. Jaitley said the tape was "false and fabricated", asking Gandhi if he could authenticate it. He might have to face a privilege motion and even expulsion if it turned out to be fabricated, the BJP leader added.
Amid an uproar, which caused a brief adjournment of the House proceedings, Gandhi said he would not play it and authenticate it, prompting Jaitley to say that he was "scared" as he knew it was false. "This man lies and lies repeatedly," Jaitley said.
The Speaker also disallowed Gandhi's request to play the clip. Gandhi claimed the BJP members were "terrified" of the clip, in which Goa minister Vishwajit Rane purportedly told someone that former defence minister Manohar Parrikar had a Rafale file in his bedroom. Rane had already termed the tape "fabricated", Jaitley said.
In his speech, Gandhi referred to Modi's comments in an interview that no personal allegation was levelled against him in the matter and said this was not true as the "entire nation" was asking him a direct question on the Rafale fighter jets deal. "He (Modi) spoke for 90 minutes in a staged interview but still did not answer questions on the Rafale issue... He does not have the guts to come to Parliament and confront questions (on Rafale) and hides in his room," Gandhi said.
"We demand a JPC probe into the matter. There is no reason for the BJP leaders to feel afraid. The country will get to know that Modi put Rs 30,000 crore in the pockets of 'double A'. The contract was snatched from the HAL (a government-run unit)," Gandhi said. "Double A" was an apparent reference to Anil Ambani, whom Gandhi repeatedly referred to in his speech before the speaker asked him not to name him as he was not a member of the House.
The Congress leader described Ambani as a "dear friend" of Modi and a "failed businessman". His defence firm was registered only 10 days before it got the offset contract from Rafale, a French firm, Gandhi said, alleging corruption in the Rs 58,000-crore deal. Hitting back, Jaitley said, "It is a tragedy that the grand old party, which was headed by legends in the past, is now headed by a gentleman who does not have basic understanding of combat aircraft."
The Congress felt that since "its hands are already soaked in corruption", it had to "manufacture" a lie to defame the Modi government which had a clean record. "Remember the JPC on Bofors...it said the kickback were winding up charges...it whitewashed corruption," Jaitley said, rejecting the JPC probe demand. The JPC often worked on partisan lines and could not investigate fairly, he added.
The finance minister noted that the price of the "bare aircraft" was revealed and the price of the "weaponised" version could not be told as it would help India's adversaries. He also asserted that the bare aircraft was nine per cent cheaper than the one negotiated by the UPA and the weaponised version was 20 per cent cheaper.
Mentioning alleged defence scams during the Congress rule, Jaitley, in a repartee, quoted from a James Bond movie which, he added, the Congress president must have seen. "In the movie, Bond says if it happens for the first time then it is happenstance, if it happens twice it is coincidence and if it is thrice then it is conspiracy. The Congress president is doing the same," he said.
Jaitley also recalled a famous British sitcom to mock the UPA's indecisiveness on the Rafale deal.