New Delhi: After the Congress launched a full campaign against the Modi government over allegations of corruption in the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets, top sources in the party have told ThePrint that it has no issues with the aircraft and the deal would go through smoothly if it comes back to power.
“The Congress party does not have any issues with the Rafale aircraft per se. The problem is the way the contract was negotiated and signed,” a top source in the Congress said.
The Modi government had signed a deal with France and its defence major Dassault Aviation in September 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets.
Diplomatic sources said top Congress leaders like Anand Sharma and others have also met French diplomats on the Rafale issue, assuring them that there won’t be any issues with the existing contract, and with the new Indian Air Force tender for 114 aircraft if Rafale is selected.
The party manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections has an image of Rafale on the page where it talks about security. The accompanying text talks about strengthening armed forces.
Earlier this year, party leader and former finance minister P. Chidambaram had told The Indian Express that the Congress won’t scrap the deal for 36 Rafale fighters, but will buy more at cheaper rates if it comes back to power.
However, top sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint that the Modi government’s proposed plan was to buy 72 aircraft. It was expected that once the deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets goes through, another 36 would be bought at cheaper rates.
The rates for the next set of aircraft are supposed to be lower because the government has already paid a one-time fee of €1.3 billion for India-specific enhancements, said the sources.
While 36 aircraft can easily be based in one location, the 2016 contract is for setting up bases in two locations, added the sources.
“The cost for setting up the bases is already paid for in the 2016 contract. Any new Rafale would be cheaper because no payment would have to be paid for India-specific enhancement and for setting up of additional base,” a top source told ThePrint.
The Congress has been using the Rafale issue as a major political plank for its Lok Sabha campaign, accusing the Modi government of crony capitalism by favouring industrialist Anil Ambani and his Reliance group companies.
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