Chronic twists and turns have made the Rafale jet deal puzzle one of the most controversial deals in recent time. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Government of India alleging that the documents linked to the French-made fighter jet deal being “stolen possibly by the public servants from the Defence Ministry” and threatening to prosecute two publications under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and initiate “criminal action” for publishing articles based on the documents has rolled many eyeballs. The details came open on Wednesday during a hearing on Rafale (request to reopen the case) at the Supreme Court. The papers were reported to be regarding the pricing of the deal which itself is a topic of furious political debate. The government held the petitioners including Prashant Bhushan, who have sought a review of the top court’s December verdict that endorsed the process followed in the deal, liable for accessing those papers illegally.
Although the SC last year ruled that there was “no occasion to doubt” the Centre’s decision-making process in the procurement of Rafale jets, a review plea has been filed.
Demanding a CBI inquiry, former Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan affirmed the involvement of prominent leaders behind the theft. He asked, “This incident questions the national security; is our country safe anymore?”
“Right now the central government is run by Anil Ambani as he has met the French Ministers twice in France regarding the Rafale deal. The RSS should also condemn the incident and question the ruling government,” he stated.
Before a three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Attorney General KK Venugopal said that those who put documents on the Rafale deal in the public domain are guilty under the Act as also contempt of court. However, the AG carefully dodged when the judges asked why no action was initiated; he instead asserted that he will get back to the government and inform the status to the court on the next date of hearing on March 14. Moreover, the court said that if an act of corruption has been committed in the Rafale deal, then the government cannot take shelter behind the OSA. Besides that, the writer and chairman of the accused publishing group said that nobody would get any information from the newspaper on the confidential sources who provided the documents.
In case of publishing articles based on stolen documents, it amounts to the violation of the Official Secrets Act entailing maximum punishment of up to 14 years while the contempt of law attracts six months jail as also a fine of Rs 2,000.
The wave of the Opposition parties targeting the PM Modi-led government for corruption into the deal took a savage turn soon after the news went viral. Maintaining that the “trail of corruption” in the Rafale fighter jet deal “begins and ends with” PM Modi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday claimed that there “is now enough evidence” to prosecute him. Gandhi also alleged “destruction of evidence” and “obvious cover-up” by the Centre. On Thursday morning, Gandhi again called for a press conference and said that the PM has performed a bypass surgery in the deal and that the parallel negotiations have retarded the delivery schedule of the jets to benefit Anil Ambani.
The opposition leader of Maharashtra Legislative council and NCP leader Dhananjay Munde expressed, “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry! When the opposition questioned the PM, who calls himself the Chaukidar of the country, claiming scams into the Rafale deal, the PM questioned our nationalism for questioning the IAF. However, just when it was about to be exposed that the Chaukidar is Chor, the documents related to the deal got stolen from the Defence Ministry.” “The same PM, who abused the opposition, couldn’t save the documents. Then, how can he save the country?” Munde asked.
The CPI(M) on Thursday alleged that a “rattled” government was trying to silence those revealing details of corruption in the Rafale jet deal but by doing so, it has admitted to the veracity of the information coming out in the public. In a tweet, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee called the entire matter a ‘Tamasha’ and demanded an inquiry. She also hinted that its fallout would be known after the Lok Sabha elections. Banerjee condemned the “threats by the BJP” to N Ram, the chairman of a leading publishing group.
Maharashtra Samajwadi party chief Abu Azmi told AV, “PM Modi is responsible for the disappearance of the important defense papers, which were being scanned for a corruption case. The theft is done purposely. The investigation should be done against the Prime Minister. As our PM takes the credit of all the good work, then why can’t he take the responsibility for this theft?”
On the other hand, AAP MP Harinder Singh Khalsa asserted, “We should not politicise every event. There’s no point suspecting the government if any Rafale deal document has been stolen. Congress is looking for every mean to bring a bad name to the Modi government. I believe that Congress must attain maturity in statesmanship.”
Fierce attacks that were exchanged for months between the Modi government and the Opposition relentlessly put Prime Minister Narendra Modi accountable for crony capitalism and corruption, pointing the choice of choosing Reliance Defence as an offset partner of the jet maker, Dassault Aviation sidelining state-owned aerospace and defence company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Meanwhile, stating that the politicisation of the deal by the opposition is harming national interest and referring to the aerial combat with Pakistan last week, the PM said that the country felt the absence of Rafale fighters as tensions with Pakistan escalated last week.
Afternoon Voice tried contacting BJP leaders regarding the theft of Rafale deal file from the Defence Ministry, but none of them agreed to comment on the same while BJP MP Vinay Sahasrabuddhe and Ranjanben Dhananjay Bhatt expressed their unawareness on the entire matter. Officials from both the Defence and Home Ministries were unavailable to remark.