New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi and the BJP traded charges over the Rafale issue on Wednesday as the Congress chief claimed that a purported dissent note by some officials on the aircraft deal demolished Prime Minister Narendra Modi's claim of better pricing and faster delivery, while the ruling party cited the CAG report to assert that it had exposed his lies.
The BJP demanded that Gandhi withdraw his allegations against the Modi government and tender an apology in the light of the CAG report and an earlier Supreme Court order.
At a press conference, the Congress president dismissed the CAG report on the multi-billion-dollar pact as a "cover up" that was not worth the papers it was written on.
On the other hand, BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad referred to the Supreme Court order, which said there was no occasion to doubt the Rafale jets purchase, to assert there was nothing left for Gandhi to question the deal, but he had been peddling lies and fake information by misrepresenting facts.
The CAG, in its report, had said the Modi government had secured a 2.86-per cent cheaper price for the Rafale fighter jets than what was negotiated by the previous UPA regime.
Stepping up his attack on the government within hours of the much-awaited Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the deal being tabled in Parliament, the Congress chief accused the Modi government of "lying".
Gandhi said even though he did not agree with the CAG's submission that the deal was 2.86-per cent cheaper than the UPA-era offer, but it "calls the bluff" of Modi, then finance minister Arun Jaitley and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who "had lied to Parliament by stating that the price of the 'new deal' was 9-20 per cent lower".
On the India-specific enhancements, the CAG, in its 157-page report, said the NDA deal was 17.08 per cent cheaper than the one negotiated by the then UPA government in 2007, while the weapons package offered in the new deal was 1.05 per cent cheaper.
BJP ally Shiv Sena questioned the veracity of the CAG report, saying it could have been manipulated.
The Sena is the BJP's alliance partner in Maharashtra as well as at the Centre, though it frequently attacks the saffron party.
The CPI(M) described the report as a "total obfuscation of truth" and said it raised more questions than answers. In a statement, the party said it was clear that the deal was "costlier", not "faster in terms of delivery" and the Indian Air Force did not procure the planes in the quantity that it actually needed.
Gandhi observed that Modi and his cabinet colleagues' argument on why the new deal was required was based on two pillars -- price and the fact that the air force needed the planes quickly -- and said the "dissent note" by some of the Rafale deal negotiating team members had "demolished" their contention.
According to Gandhi, the note said French firm Dassault Aviation would take at least 10 years to complete its present backlog of the Rafale aircraft.
He also quoted the note as saying that the final price offered by the French government, which was escalation-based, was 55.6 per cent above the benchmark price.
"There is only one reason the new deal has been carried out and that is to give (industrialist) Anil Ambani Rs 30,000 crore," he said.
Severely critical of the CAG, he asked why the "dissent note" by the negotiating team officials was not part of the report.
"As far as I am concerned, a CAG report that does not mention this document, that does not mention the dissent the negotiating team itself made on price, on timing, I do not think it is worth the paper (it is written on)," he said.
"The CAG report is a cover-up. It ignores the cost of the missing bank guarantee & glosses over the suspect costs for 'India Specific Enhancements'. But even the CAG couldn't hide that it may take upto 10 yrs. for the 36 RAFALE jets to be delivered!," Gandhi also tweeted later.
Hitting back, Prasad cited the CAG report to say the deal signed by the Modi government was cheaper and would result in faster delivery of 36 Rafale jets that India was buying from Dassault Aviation.
"We never imagined that Indira Gandhi's grandson and Rajiv Gandhi's son will lie so shamelessly," he told reporters.
In light of the SC order and the CAG report, Gandhi should withdraw his allegations and tender an apology, he demanded.
Prasad accused the UPA government of delaying the finalisation of the aircraft's purchase and claimed the delay happened because "there would be no deal without a deal" under the Congress-led dispensation.
He alleged that the Congress-led government had sought "commissions" in such transactions.
Noting that Gandhi had cited the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), a public sector unit, being not part of the Rafale manufacturing to attack the Modi government, the BJP leader said the CAG had observed that HAL would take 2.7 times the man-hours that Dassault would for preparing a jet.
That arrangement would have delayed the process and made it costlier, Prasad said.
Taking a dig at Gandhi, he said it was a matter of serious discussion how much the Congress president understood the CAG report, pointing out that Gandhi on Tuesday used an e-mail "about helicopters" to say that it referred to the Rafale jets.
"It is very worrisome that he cannot differentiate between helicopters and Rafale fighter jets," Prasad said.