Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) chief Kamal Haasan demanded an investigation into the allegations surrounding the Dassault Rafale deal. The actor-turned-politician however clarified that he was not accusing anyone in connection with the deal.
“There is (a) suspicion and we should demand an investigation. We are not accusing, but we are suspecting,” Haasan was quoted as saying by ANI.
This is the first time that the 63-year-old politician has spoken on the deal, which is at the centre of an escalating row between the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Congress has been relentlessly targeting the BJP-led NDA government over the deal to acquire only 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of favouring Anil Ambani through the deal. The selection of Ambani’s Reliance Defence as an offset partner of Dassault has come under a cloud following former French President Francois Hollande’s claim that India didn’t give his country any other choice.
“The PM had said I am the ‘chowkidar’ (guard) of the nation. So this chowkidar put the money of the youth and the Air Force in the pockets of Anil Ambani, who has a debt of Rs 45,000 crore on him, just like Vijay Mallya has debt,” Gandhi was quoted as saying by ANI.
Gandhi said that each time when he asked Modi about why he awarded the contract to Ambani, the PM couldn’t respond and looked away.
“The PM looked here, there, everywhere but did not look me in the eye. Why? Because Narendra Modi has stolen the country’s money and given to Anil Ambani,” the Congress chief said while making gestures.
The Congress also questioned the ruling government over the non-inclusion of HAL in the Rafale deal by posting a video of Dassault chief Eric Trappier in which he is heard praising the PSU during an address to officers from Indian Air Force and HAL.
The video, which was shot on 25 March 2015, shows Trappier expressing his happiness at Rafale’s selection as per the IAF’s MMRDA requirements following a stiff competition between top fighter aircraft makers from around the world.
But the BJP alleged that the Congress and its president were part of an international conspiracy to sabotage the deal.
BJP leader and Union minister Gajendra Shekhawat alleged on Monday that Gandhi is trying to benefit his brother-in-law Robert Vadra.
The minister also claimed that Vadra had links with arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari. He said the Congress-led UPA government cancelled the deal with Dassault as the French company did not accept one of Vadra’s firms as “middleman”.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said that the Rafale deal was a “government-to-government” discussion and he was not in power when the multi-billion dollar agreement for 36 fighter jets was signed between India and France.
Addressing a press conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, Macron was asked if the Indian government had at any point told France or Dassault — the French aerospace major — that they had to accept Reliance as the Indian partner for the Rafale deal.
“I will be very clear. It was a government-to-government discussion and I just want to refer to what Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi very clearly said a few days ago,” Macron, who became French President in May last year, told reporters on Tuesday without elaborating.
“I don’t have any other comment. I was not in charge at that time and I know that we have very clear rules,” he added.
India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September last year for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore, nearly one-and-half years after PM Modi announced the proposal during a visit to Paris. The delivery of the jets is scheduled to begin from September 2019.