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Rahul Gandhi challenges PM Modi to debate on Rafale deal, BJP hits back

Congress president Rahul Gandhi kicked off the party’s Lok Sabha election campaign in Karnataka on Monday by challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a debate on the Rafale aircraft deal, accusing the government of compromising national interest. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party responded swiftly,terming the allegation “reckless and baseless.”
Speaking at a Janadhwani (people’s voice) rally in Bidar, in northern Karnataka, to mark the start of the campaign for the 2019 polls, Gandhi said he would like “a debate [to] happen between me and Narendra Modi on Rafael deal… I will speak at length for hours.”
Gandhi has on several occasions alleged wrongdoing — which the government has denied — in the deal to purchase 36 Rafale military aircraft made by the French company Dassault. The deal followed an earlier proposal — now scrapped — by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government for the purchase of 136 Rafale planes.
“I spoke about the Rafale deal in Parliament… The United Progressive Alliance wanted lakhs of Indian youth to get jobs through the deal and so it was given to the public sector, with clauses for technology transfer as well,” Gandhi said. “Under the UPA deal, 136 aircraft were to be purchased, each one costing Rs 526 crore. But the Modi government changed this and now only 36 planes will be bought at Rs 1,600 crore per aircraft and without technology transfer,” Gandhi said.
In New Delhi, the BJP dismissed Gandhi’s criticism of the Rafale deal as desperation because of an income tax investigation against a company in which he and his mother Sonia Gandhi are majority stakeholders. The ruling party reiterated that the deal was “transparent” and “honestly executed” between two heads of government.
“Rahul Gandhi is not worth to have a debate with the prime minister,” senior BJP leader and Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said. “He had said there will be earthquake if he speaks for 15 minutes in Parliament. He spoke (in the monsoon session) and nothing happened.”
The BJP leader said Gandhi was making “reckless and baseless” allegations against the government in desperation because he is in trouble in a tax matter connected with a company, Young Indian, in which he and his mother hold a 76% stake.
Prasad said tax authorities had opened records related to the assessment year 2011-12, during which the company had taken over properties of Associated Journal Limited (AJL) worth over Rs 5,000 crore for a mere Rs 50 lakh. AJL is owner of the National Herald newspaper.
“Let the country know as to how upon a meagre transfer of Rs. 50 lakh, the AICC (All India Congress Committee) transferred the liability of Rs 90 crore to Young Indian…How is it that the entire property of AJL came to be owned by Young Indian? How can you take a party loan into your own company,”
Tax authorities, in a revised claim for the assessment year 2011-12, will make Young Indian liable to pay Rs 154 crore and not just Rs 68 lakh as tax, Prasad said.
He reiterated that the Rafale deal signed under the National Democratic Alliance government was 9% cheaper than the price that the UPA regime had agreed to pay.
The BJP also released a brief video featuring actor Pallavi Joshi to defend the deal. Joshi is seen in the video drawing an analogy between the purchase of security apparatus in her apartment and the Rafale deal negotiated under the Modi government to draw the conclusion that the latter was cheaper than the price the previous government had agreed to pay; the planes would also come with additional features, she said.
Gandhi used the rally to ridicule Modi’s recent comment that he had heard of a tea seller using biofuel collected from a drain to fire his stove. The anecdote narrated by Modi, Gandhi said, is an indication that the PM’s new employment strategy is to advise the young to make pakoras for a living and not even provide them with gas to fuel their stoves. He was referring to remarks made by Modi on Friday at the World Biofuels Day in New Delhi.
“At an innovation conference, the prime minister… (spoke about) a dhabawala whose shop was located near a drain. Modi said this man invented a new technology, wherein he put a pipe to the drain and collected biogas and fired his stove using that,” Gandhi said. “This is Narendra Modi’s new employment strategy for the country. He promised 20 million jobs a year, but now he says make pakoras, and won’t even give you gas, so you have to take it from the drain.”
The reference is to the Prime Minister saying in a televised interview that even making and selling pakoras to earn Rs 200 a day was a form of employment.
Responding to Gandhi’s comments, state BJP spokesperson S Prakash said the Congress president had proved he had little understanding of biofuels. “He clearly does not understand the potential savings biofuels can help bring about by cutting down on consumption of petroleum products. These are highly irresponsible statements that are worrying because Gandhi aspires to become the prime minister,” Prakash added.

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