Agencies / New Delhi
Two Former BJP ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and Activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan at joint press conference today alleged that the Rafale jet deal was “unilaterally” finalized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi by violating mandatory procedures, and this defence scandal was “larger than any thus far.”
“I can tell you as a person who handled the matter in regard to Bofors… that Bofors was absolutely nothing compared to this,” Arun Shourie said, referring to the 1986 Bofors Howitzer gun deal that exploded in the Congress’s face and cost then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi a chance to return to power in the next 1989 general election.
Shourie was a journalist before he joined the BJP and is seen to have led the reportage on the Bofors case.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, said the manner in which the order for Rafale jets was changed made for a “clear case of criminal misconduct”. Besides the “gross violation of mandatory procedures,” a public sector undertaking was “inexplicably dropped” from the project, he said.
Demanding a time-bound probe by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, they asked the government to come clean on the issue.
“If the Modi government had stuck to the old deal (negotiated by the UPA government), we could have already got 18 aircraft in flyaway condition and production would have started on the rest of 108 in India. But a new deal of 36 aircraft was finalized without due procedure. Ye raat ko ilhaam kahan se aaya (When did this divine revelation come)?” Shourie asked.
“A new deal was finalized without floating any fresh tenders and the public was given to believe that we would get these aircraft in ready-to-fly condition within two years. But the fact is that we will get all the 36 in batches that would complete by mid 2022.”
Bhushan said the government was trying to hide behind a secret clause in order to avoid revealing the cost of each jet, but this clause did not actually pertain to prices.
He said as per the prices revealed by Dassault Aviation, the final cost of each aircraft along with weapons, equipment and technology transfer is more than double the rate finalised in the old deal.
Sinha pointed out that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which should have vetted and cleared the deal first, was “nowhere in the picture” when Modi signed the deal in April 2016, and the CCS was seized of the matter around one year after the deal had been signed.
“The CAG should complete the forensic audit of the deal within three months and place its report in the public domain. We cannot hinge our hopes on Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) as the present Lok Sabha is on its last legs and JPC cannot take it up now,” Sinha said.
Asked if they would move the court in the matter, Bhushan replied in the negative, citing various reasons, including the judicial climate.
The attack on the Rafale deal comes after a series of statements made by Congress president Rahul Gandhi who has said that the government is trying to block attempts in the media to independently report what the Congress calls a scam.