New Delhi: The Congress party on Monday continued its attack on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the Rafale fighter aircraft deal, accusing defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman of misleading the Lok Sabha over the issue. Senior Congress leaders are of the view that a privilege motion should be moved against the minister.
The move is significant because ahead of the 2019 general elections, the Congress is attempting to corner the BJP over issues of corruption, transparency and defence deals. Party chief Rahul Gandhi spoke at length on the Rafale deal at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) on Sunday, and told party leaders that the issue needs to be raised actively.
In a bid to step up pressure and corner the government over the secrecy surrounding the cost of Rafale aircraft, Congress party fielded its top guns at a joint press conference on Monday, including former defence minister A.K. Antony, deputy leader of Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.
“Deluding and Misleading the People of India, the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi and Defence Minister, Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman sought to lie on the floor of the Parliament. Neither the revelation of the ‘Commercial Cost’ of Rafale aircrafts will violate any ‘Secrecy Agreement’ with the French Government, nor will it reveal any ‘Classified or Protected Information’," said a joint statement by the leaders.
Asked if the Congress would give a notice of privilege motion in Parliament, Surjewala said: “The issue is related to the Lok Sabha and the leader of the Congress parliamentary party will take a decision on it soon."
According to a senior party leader, the Congress is likely to move a motion against Sitharaman in a few days and it is likely to be on the grounds that she misled the Lok Sabha in her response on Friday during the no-confidence motion debate whereas she had said earlier that the price could be disclosed.
Sitharaman did not respond to a request for comment. Union IT and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad held a press conference on Monday evening and attacked the Congress over allegations of corruption during its earlier regime.
“Congress party-led UPA was signifier of corruption...this is their record of 10 years. Today, when Modi government is taking honest and transparent decisions, then we can understand their problems. They are trying to raise the Rafale deal issue by making false allegations," Prasad told reporters.
The BJP had filed a privilege motion last week against Gandhi saying he misled Parliament by accusing the defence minister of lying to the nation.
Elizabeth Roche contributed to this story.