Even Before Bhushan, Sinha and Shourie Could Begin Their PC, Media Houses and Editors Discreetly ‘Told’ to Prominently Incorporate Govt’s Views on Rafale Scam

Even before former cabinet ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, along with Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan could begin their Press Conference (PC) at the Delhi Press Club on Wednesday, regarding the Rafale Jet Fighter deal, senior I&B and PMO officials were furiously working their phones.

IndiaScoops.com has learnt that government officials and BJP spokespersons including a PR agency phoned several ‘friendly’ editors of newspapers and news TV channels requesting them to either boycott the PC or relegate it’s coverage to the inner pages and non-peak time TV telecast.

The Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group PR team was also on its toes, trying to find out which correspondents were attending the event.

IndiaScoops.com  spoke to five senior editors – three from national dailies and two from mainline news channels who admitted off the record that they got ‘how are you’ calls from the I&B Ministry and the PMO inquiring if they were covering the PC called by the trio.

Other editors from pro-BJP outlets refused to speak to IndiaScoops.com, or simply banged down the phone when queried on the subject, but their impulsive curtness was an indication of their indignation.

Two editors told IndiaScoops.com that they were asked as to which reporter or correspondent was covering the event, while others were indirectly advised and reminded to prominently feature the government view in their reportage of the PC.

According to a report in the Indian Express at a press meet, Shourie, Sinha and Bhushan said public sector unit Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which was part of the original negotiations, was pushed out and a newly-minted company, Reliance Defence Ltd, which had zero experience in defence manufacturing bagged an offset contract. They said such an agreement between Reliance Defence and Dassault Aviation, which makes Rafale jets, should have come after governmental approval.

Sinha said Bofors “pales into insignificance” when compared to this “scam”. They said statements of then foreign secretary S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar suggest that none of them were aware of the new deal to buy 36 jets, against 126 aircraft as per a Request for Proposal issued in 2007, for which Dassault had been selected as it was the lowest bidder, reports the Indian Express.

“Nobody in the Air Force or the defence ministry was aware” of the reduction, Bhushan told media persons at the PC.

They also said there were no additional add-ons as per Indian specifications, as claimed by the government, compared to the original RFP. They quoted the joint statement by India and France on April 10, 2015, which mentioned that the 36 jets to be delivered by Dassault “and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by the Indian Air Force”.

Calling it an “enormous scandal which jeopardizes national security”, Shourie asked the government to make details of the deal public, reports Indian Express.

Regarding Dassault’s deal with Reliance Defence, he asked if it could have happened “without a nudge and a wink” from the government. He highlighted that offset guidelines of the government issued on April 1, 2016, mention that “all offset proposals will be processed by the Acquisition Manager and approved by Raksha Mantri, regardless of their value”.

A joint statement issued by the Bhushan, Sinha and Shourie said, “Could an experienced manufacturer like Dassault have picked a company that had no experience whatsoever of manufacturing aircraft…without the approval from the government and particularly the PM?”

The statement said a “private party which has had absolutely no experience in manufacturing aerospace and defence equipment has been handed an enormous financial benefit.” They demanded an independent audit by Comptroller and Auditor General.

The government machiney spun into action immediately after the PC was over. A statement was ready and emailed to most media persons. Correspondents from wire services were also sent the government’s version to counter the allegations made by the trio.

A few hours after the press meet, Arun Jaitley wrote in a blog post, “There is not a grain of truth in the wild allegations repeated today nor anything substantiating in the purported facts and voluminous documents marshaled to corroborate the baseless accusations,” he claimed

Jaitley added that the allegations constitute nothing but “reprocessed lies by forces increasingly desperate to prove their relevance”. He said the government had already responded effectively to every distortion and misinformation on the issue.” reported the Indian Express.

with inputs from Indian Express and Agencies

Bofors scam ‘insignificant’ before Rafale, which is the mother of all scams, say Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan

New Delhi: (PTI) The Rafale deal is a case of “monumental criminal misconduct” by the NDA government and the scam involving it is much bigger than the Bofors scandal, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie alleged on Wednesday, demanding a time-bound probe into the contract by national auditor CAG, reports news agency PTI.

The duo were accompanied by senior counsel and activist Prashant Bhushan and held a press conference at the Delhi Press Club on Wednesday.

In a tweet, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rejected the charges as “baseless”, asserting that the government had already responded to the allegations on the floor of Parliament.

She said a recent attempt in Parliament to malign the government through baseless charges had collapsed.

Sinha and Shourie, addressing a press conference along with lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, raised a number of questions over the Rs 58,000 crore deal for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

Both Shourie and Sinha have served in the previous BJP-led government at the Centre.

The trio, known as strong critics of the NDA government, also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of single-handedly changing the parameters of the deal and that there was gross violation of mandatory procedures in finalising the contract.

The entire deal was a “textbook case of criminal misconduct, of misuse of public office and of enriching parties at the expense of the national interest and national security”, they alleged, adding there was an “effort” by the government to “conceal” facts.

The Congress has been accusing massive irregularities in the Rafale deal, alleging that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government for the procurement of 126 Rafale jets.

The deal negotiated by the UPA could not be inked.

The trio also rejected government’s contention that the prices of the aircraft have gone up due to India-specific add-ons and weapons systems, citing a joint statement by India and France during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Paris in 2015.

They said the joint statement mentioned that the aircraft and the associated systems and weapons would be delivered to India on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by Indian Air Force for the deal negotiated for procurement of 126 jets under the UPA government.

Shourie alleged that there had been “gross misuse of office” by which the original project for the acquisition of 126 fighter aircraft had been “sabotaged”. “I can tell you, as a person who handled the matter with regards to Bofors, that Bofors was absolutely nothing compared to this (Rafale scam). There was never a sudden change (in the deal) like this in which you suddenly give up the entire project,” the former minister in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government said.

The Congress has also been pressing for price details of the deal but the NDA government has refused to divulge them citing confidentiality provisions of a 2008 Indo-France pact. The government has asserted that there were no irregularities in the deal.

“I would suggest, on our behalf, that the audit which Comptroller and Auditor General was supposed to take up, that should be a forensic audit and it should be completed within three months,” said Sinha, adding “It is a huge scam. Bofors pales into insignificance before this scam.”

The Bofors scandal involving procurement of howitzer guns in late 1980s had rocked the then Rajiv Gandhi government. Terming the Rafale deal as the “biggest defence scam” that this country has seen so far, Bhushan alleged that it involved a loss of at least 35,000 crore to the public exchequer.

The trio said the ever-shifting statements of the ministers of defence, invoking of secrecy clauses in the contract and the inexplicable dropping of the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), from the project were among the factors which convinced them of the deal being “a major scandal”.

“We are convinced that this is an enormous scandal that jeopardises national security and hence we feel the government must reveal the facts, especially the facts in relation to what the whole deal is going to cost the public exchequer,” Shourie said.

“We hope that the opposition parties will relentlessly pursue this matter, the way the BJP had pursued Bofors at that time. With the same tenacity, the opposition parties must pursue the matter,” he said.

The three leaders also accused the government of benefitting Reliance Defence, saying that the company which was under Rs 8,000 crore in debt and had no experience in making aircraft was involved under mandatory offset obligations of the French firm. Strongly rejecting the charges, CEO of Reliance Defence and Aerospace Rajesh K Dhingra said no contract has been given to any Reliance Group company by the Ministry of Defence related to the purchase of the 36 Rafale aircraft. “As all 36 aircraft are to be delivered ‘fly-away’, to be manufactured in France by Dassault and exported to India, how is the question of experience in manufacturing aircraft relevant here?,” he asked.

Under India’s offset policy, foreign defence entities are mandated to spend at least 30 per cent of the total contract value in India through procurement of components or setting up of research and development facilities.

Source: PTI

India needs relief from Narendra Modi’s ‘bogus achche din’ promises: Rahul Gandhi

There is a “rising tide of anger” against the Narendra Modi government — and its four years marked by corruption, economic failure, incompetence and spread of social divisiveness — and people want the Congress and its allies to give them an alternative to Modi’s “bogus achche din” promise, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said on Tuesday, reports the Indian Express.

Addressing a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party, Rahul signalled that the central theme of the party’s 2019 campaign will be “failure of the Modi government” to implement promises made before 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the alleged controversial Rafale fighter jet deal, bank frauds, agrarian distress, and the economic and job situation.

There has been a “systematic attack” on institutions ever since the “BJP and the RSS” have come to power, the Congress chief maintained. “In modern India, these institutions were called temples of democracy. Today, the RSS is intent in destroying every single one of them,” he said. “Every single institution is being penetrated by their people and the nature of institution itself is being changed,” Indian Express quoted Rahul Gandhi as saying.

He claimed that the “crisis of governance” in India is at its peak under the Modi government. “There is a rising tide of anger against the ruling dispensation. That calls upon all of us to work very hard to give the people of India the alternative they deserve — an alternative to the bogus promise of Modi-ji’s achche din.”

Rahul said, “In 2014, when he was elected, Modi-ji said India had been a slow ‘passenger train’ for 70 years after Independence. Now, under his guidance and rule, the country will become a sleek and shining magical train destined for achche din, he said. Give me your votes, Modi-ji said, and ‘I will take you on the best and most comfortable journey of your life’.

“Four years of Modi Rule later, sadly, India today looks more like a train that is being driven to disaster by an autocratic, incompetent and arrogant driver, who does not care what happens to passengers,” he said.

Arguing that the people of India are demanding change, he said they will “no longer be fooled by your (BJP’s) magical train headed for a bad accident”.

Rahul said farmers are agitating, the youth are restless and there is discontent at the lack of opportunities to earn and live with dignity. “Cabinet ministers are now publicly saying there are no jobs,” he said.

“The Rafale scam, involving over Rs 1.3 lakh crore of public money and designed to bail out debt-ridden corporate cronies of Modi-ji, is symbolic of the true ‘sanskar’ of this government — Raam naam japna, paraya maal apna,” he said, referring to an old Hindi film song indicating corruption, says Indian Express.

Source: Indian Express