India and France do have a 2008 security pact to protect classified information that also applies to the deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets in 2016, the French government said in a statement that is seen to rebut Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s all-out attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha.
Mr Gandhi, speaking in parliament during the debate on the no-trust motion against Prime Minister Narendra Modi contended that French President Emmanuel Macron had told him that no agreement signed by the two countries stopped India from disclosing the aircraft’s pricing. Mr Gandhi had met President Macron during his March visit to the country.
The French foreign ministry responded quickly to Mr Gandhi’s charge.
Without referring to discussions between Mr Gandhi and President Macron during his India visit this year, the French foreign ministry spokesperson pointed to the 2008 agreement.
“These provisions naturally apply to the IGA (inter-governmental agreement) concluded on 23 September 2016 on the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft and their weapons,” the French foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement.
“Let him reject,” Mr Gandhi said, asked about the rejoinder. “I was not alone. Dr Manmohan Singh and Anand Sharma were also present at the meeting,” he told reporters.
Mr Gandhi has called the deal a scam, and challenged the government to come clean on how much was paid for the aircrafts.
The Congress claims that the price of the fighter jets is higher than what was finalised by the United Progressive Alliance government which had negotiated a deal for 126 aircrafts. Mr Gandhi alleged that the deal was sealed at a higher price at a loss to the taxman to favour “a businessman”.
“Everybody understands the relationship the prime minister has with certain business people,” Mr Gandhi said.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who had initially agreed to give the details, later backtracked, after officials told her that the price was “classified information”. Union Minister Arun Jaitley had backed her up, accusing Congress president Rahul Gandhi of “seriously compromising” the country’s security by seeking details of weaponry purchased along with the aircraft. But the Congress promptly pulled out instances where the UPA had given pricing details of the fighter jets such as Sukhoi-30 MKI.