Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Friday raked up the multi-billion Rafale deal in the UK, accusing the BJP government of changing the contract to benefit an industrialist who was in debt.
In an interaction with the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (UK) at the London School of Economics, Mr Gandhi spoke of alleged corruption in the Rafale deal, accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of favouring a businessman who had no experience in manufacturing aircraft.
Mr Gandhi has been attacking the BJP government for allegedly inking the deal at a much higher price than the one the previous UPA regime had negotiated to benefit “one businessman”.
Facing allegations of getting undue benefits from the multi-billion dollar Rafale deal, Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group has sent legal notices to several Congress leaders asking them to “cease and desist” from levelling such charges.
Mr Gandhi, in response to a question on tackling corruption during an ‘In Conversation’ event at the famous London university, said: “Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has been building aircraft for 70 years. It has built the Sukhoi, Hawk… whole set of planes. HAL has no debt. HAL has by far the best experience in building aircraft in 70 years”.
Questioning the government’s fighter jet deal struck with French giant Dassault Rafale, the Congress president said he found it “absolutely amazing” that the media in India had not picked up on highlighting how Mr Ambani was “magically” given the contract for 36 fighter jets soon after PM Modi’s visit to France.
“Our government signed a contract with Dassault, and gave the contract to HAL. The price we were paying was approximately 520 crores a plane.
“Then something happened, Prime Minister Modi went to France, changed the contract from 126 planes to 36 planes, changed the pricing structure from 520 crores to 1,600 crores and magically, Mr Anil Ambani was given the contract,” Mr Gandhi said.
The Congress president alleged that “Mr Anil Ambani is Rs 45,000 crore in debt”.
“Mr Anil Ambani has never made a plane in his life, and the company that got the contract, one of the biggest defence contracts in the world, was formed one week before the contract was signed, luckily this is absolutely amazing. So that’s the interesting question about corruption,” Mr Gandhi said.
Reliance Group has denied the allegations relating to the deal under which France’s Dassault is supplying the fighter jets and has entered into a joint venture with an Anil Ambani-led group firm to meet its offset requirement of the contract.
Mr Ambani recently wrote to Mr Gandhi on the deal saying his party has been “misinformed, misdirected and misled” by “malicious vested interests and corporate rivals” on the issue.
The issue of corruption was among a range of topics covered by Mr Gandhi during his question and answer session with students from the LSE and other British universities, including Brunel and King’s College London, organised by the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK to launch its ‘Perspective India Townhall’.
On the issue of his association with dynastic politics as the grandson of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and son of Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, he said: “I come from a certain family but I am an elected person; I have been democratically elected. So the term dynasty is not precise.
“I am actually elected and the important thing is I operate in a democracy and take the punches and have learnt a lot from my experiences over the years”.
Calling on youngsters to join politics, he stressed that the Congress was determined to defend the “onslaught on the Indian Constitution” and “remove the BJP from power”.
“We are constructing a manifesto in the Congress that brings in all ideas, stakeholders, farmers and allies and potentially have a structure with which to go to the people,” Mr Gandhi said in reference to the 2019 general election, adding that his party would not be making any alliances with anybody not “ideologically on our platform”.
The Congress president described the essence of the Congress party as its ideology of non-violence and one that feels deeply for the people in the country who are weaker.
“I have been through a certain degree of violence up close. I have seen family members killed and borne the brunt of massive attacks on myself and learnt a lot from that. Ultimately, I love my country,” he said, when asked about his leadership credentials.
Asked if the Partition of India in 1947 was the right move, given the “attacks on minorities” in India, he was defiant in the message that India has more Muslim people than Pakistan.
“We are a more democratic and open country, which embraces its people. The negotiation that India has been able to carry with its people, I am very proud of.
“However, over the last four years, an attack is taking place on Indian institutions but the original idea of India is going to win – 100 per cent without a doubt,” Mr Gandhi said.
The event with LSE South Asian Centre director Mukulika Banerjee covered a wide spectrum of subjects.