Congress president Rahul Gandhi. (PTI)
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress engaged in war of words after the Supreme Court on Friday dismissed the petitions challenging the controversial Rafale deal between India and France for procurement of 36 Rafale jets saying there was no occasion to "really doubt the decision-making process" warranting setting aside of the contract. While BJP president Amit Shah demands Rahul Gandhi’s apology after the court’s verdict, his Congress counterpart maintained that there was a massive corruption in the contract, using the barb of "chowkidaar chor hai" (watchman is a thief) against the prime minister.
Addressing a press conference along with party's top leaders Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, P Chidambaram and Mallikarjun Kharge in New Delhi, Gandhi said corruption had taken place in the contract which he asserted will be proved by his party and claimed that the basis of the court judgement is a CAG report that has neither been seen by anyone, nor shared with Parliament's Public Accounts Committee. He asserted that no such report was given to the House panel headed by Congress' leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge.
Seconding Gandhi’s statement, Kharge said he as chairman of the PAC has not seen any such report of the CAG that the Supreme Court judgment has cited and termed it "strange" as well as "untrue".
"When the CAG does not have the report, how will it come before the PAC. Who gave the report, where is the report. Where did the report come from," he wondered, alleging that "this is far from truth".
Taking a dig at the government, Gandhi said: "I am seriously not able to understand. You are laughing, but I'm not able to understand this. When one speaks a lie somewhere it comes out. The government has to make us understand, where is the CAG report. Please show it to us, to the PAC chairman. Or is it with some other PAC that PM Modi has set up in the PMO or some other Parliament in another country, like France. It is possible in today's world under Modi ji."
Gandhi also accused the Modi government of destroying "all institutions" and asserted that corruption has taken place in the Rafale deal under its watch.
"While the Election Commission says something, the Supreme Court says something else and the judges come out and say some other things," he said.
"There is a theft of Rs 30,000 crore and it is farmers' money.... This money is taken by them, everybody in the country knows and understands.
"The 'chowkidaar' has done a theft and we will prove it...People of India know that Prime Minister Modi is a friend of Anil Ambani...The people of India know the truth and they understand the truth.
"Modi ji can run as much he wants, but no one can save him from being caught. The moment there is a probe by the JPC only two names of Anil Ambani and Narendra Modi will come out," he said.
The Congress chief’s reactions came hours after Shah accused Gandhi of misleading people and endangering national security with his allegations about the Rs 58,000 crore deal. Shah said the verdict was a slap on the face of those who levelled such charges.
Shah likened Gandhi's allegations against Modi to throwing mud at the Sun, saying it cannot dim its fire and the mud falls on those who throw it.
Top ruling party leaders, including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, also joined the issue, even as BSP supremo Mayawati, often a bitter critic of the BJP, said the apex court's order will definitely give some respite to the central government.
In a statement, Mayawati also called for fundamental reforms in all defence related procurement to address doubts about them.
Jaitley said “all the figures by the government are correct” and the figures by Gandhi are false”. Jaitley also rejected the Congress’s demand for a JPC probe into the Rafale deal.
The Congress claimed the Supreme Court has vindicated its stand that the issue of "corruption" in the Rafale fighter jet agreement cannot be decided by it and challenged the Centre to constitute a JPC to probe the deal.
“Reviews of this kind can only be done by judiciary, not by a partisan body,” Jaitley said on the demand for a JPC probe.
“The Rafale deal has protected both security and commercial interest of India. Security interest because it increases combat ability of India, commercial interest because the final price was significantly lower both for aircraft and weaponised aircraft than what was negotiated in 2007 and 2012,” said Arun Jaitley.
Jaitley added: “Falsehood has a very short life. In this case, it was a few months. Falsehood lowers the credibility of its creator.”
Sitharaman said the UPA wanted to buy 18 aircraft and manufacture the rest. “We bought 36 aircraft due to time lost.”
(With PTI inputs)