Congress president Rahul Gandhi today slammed the no-guarantee clause in the Rafale fighter jet deal, wondering if it was indeed a government-to-government understanding or just another indication that the "watchman" has sold out.
Mr Gandhi has been relentlessly taunting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in this vein ever since the latter asked voters to appoint him as a chowkidar (or watchman) entrusted with protecting the national treasury at a public rally held in 2013. In September, the Congress president cited the example of fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya -- who fled the country after borrowing thousands of crores from domestic banks -- to dub Mr Modi as a "chowkidar who opens the country's doors to let thieves in". At an event held in Rajasthan a few days later, he criticised the Prime Minister's silence on the Rafale deal and ended his speech with the line: "Gali gali mein shor hai, Hindustan ka chowkidar chor hai (This is the cry in every lane, India's watchman is a thief)".
Today's jibe comes in the wake of the centre admitting before a Supreme Court bench on Wednesday that the Rafale deal hinges not on a sovereign guarantee -- which would require France to take full responsibility if the 36 fighter jets are not delivered -- but a "weaker" Letter of Comfort from the European country. The latter is only a written document assuring that an obligation will be eventually met.
"The latest skeleton to tumble out of the Rafale cupboard is this: There's no guarantee of the French government backing the deal... Instead, our Prime Minister says there's a letter from France promising to be faithful! That's enough to call this a government-to-government deal," Mr Gandhi tweeted, adding #BikGayaChowkidar (the watchman has sold out).
However, the centre has defended itself by stating that they have enough assurances from the French government as well as aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation to determine that the acquisition is legally safe. Today, Union Minister VK Singh even dubbed those levelling accusations against the government over the Rafale deal as "illiterate".
The opposition Congress also finds fault with a "secrecy clause" cited by the centre to not reveal the total cost of the aircraft, besides Dassault Aviation's decision to partner with industrialist Anil Ambani's debt-ridden defence company over state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. While the government maintains that the clause is essential for safeguarding the country's security, Mr Gandhi alleges that the lack of transparency in the deal is an indication of high-level corruption.
Significantly, Rajasthan Congress leader Sachin Pilot said at an event organised by NDTV yesterday that Mr Gandhi never referred to PM Modi by name while making the watchman jibe. "There are many chowkidars in India," he clarified.
Disclaimer: NDTV has been sued for 10,000 crores by Anil Ambani's Reliance Group for its coverage of the Rafale deal.
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