For the second time in less than a week, BJP parliamentarian Shatrughan Sinha has asked the government to clear the air on the multi-million dollar Rafale fighter jet deal, which has been caught in a political slugfest. Today, in a tweet, Mr Sinha asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break his silence and contradict former French president Francois Hollande, who had dropped a bombshell last week on the deal for the 36 Rafale jets.
"Sir ji! Please break your silence and contradict former French President Hollande (since both of you were present in meeting)....otherwise people will think he is speaking the truth," Shatrughan Sinha, who has been consistently critical of his party's government, tweeted.
Last week, a French publication had quoted Mr Hollande as saying that the Indian government had proposed Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence as the offset partner for the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal.
Mr Hollande's remarks have been denied by both the French government and Dassault, the maker of the Rafale jets.
The opposition has been alleging that PM Modi sealed the deal without any transparency and how it benefitted Anil Ambani. The Anil Ambani-led group is manufacturing aerospace components as part of the offset component of the Rafale deal. The clause requires Rafale manufacturer Dassault to ensure that business worth around Rs. 30,000 crores is generated for the Indian defence system. Reliance Defence is not making components for the Rafales ordered by India but is building assemblies for Dassault business jets.
On Saturday, Mr Sinha, 72, had asked the government to come clean on the fighter jet deal.
"The statement has come from a person who was not only a former France president but the one under whom the (Rafale) deal was sealed. Some questions have arisen from it, which need to be answered," Mr Sinha, the lawmaker from Bihar's Patna Sahib seat, had said in the presence of Aam Aadmi Party leader Sanjay Singh.
"People are questioning why an experienced company like HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) was set aside and a new company (Reliance Defence) got the opportunity (for offset contract under the deal)," the actor-turned-politician had added.
The deal to buy Rafale fighters was signed by the NDA government with France in 2016 after the previous Congress government's negotiations were scrapped. The Congress-led UPA's plan was to buy 18 off-the-shelf jets from France's Dassault Aviation, with 108 others being assembled in India by the HAL in Bengaluru. But according to the new deal, India would buy 36 ready-to-fly Rafale jets.
Mr Sinha's comments were criticized by fellow party parliamentarian RK Sinha on Monday, who accused him of siding with opposition leaders like Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav.
"You should first decide where you stand. With Modi or against Modi. The people of the country will settle the account accordingly," RK Sinha had said on his Facebook page.
Mr Sinha, called Shotgun for his acerbic comments that consistently attack his own party, has had an uneasy relationship with the BJP for a few years and often cribs that the party, under PM Modi and Amit Shah, had relegated him to the spectator seats in Bihar.