NEW DELHI: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today termed as "absolutely wrong" Congress President Rahul Gandhi's claim that there was no confidentiality clause in the Rafale aircraft deal with France and said the initial agreement was signed when the UPA was in power in 2008.
Sitharaman was making an intervention after Gandhi attacked the Modi government and the defence minister on the Rafale deal during the debate on no-confidence motion in Lok Sabha and alleged that she had spoken "untruth" when she claimed that the Indian government could not reveal details of the deal due to a confidentiality clause in the agreement with France.
The minsiter said the India-France agreement to buy the fighter jets was signed in 2008 by the then defence minister A K Antony and it had the confidentiality clause.
"It was an agreement of secrecy. Protection of classified information. I am not privy to what the French President told Rahul Gandhi. But I am referring to two particular interviews that the French President had given to Indian TV channels." In the interviews, the French President had said that commercial details of the Rafale deal cannot be revealed," she said.
Sitharaman quoted the French President as saying in the interviews while replying to specific questions about the Rafale deal: "You have these commercial agreements and obviously you have competitors and we cannot reveal the details".
The defence minister said, "Whatever Rahul Gandhi said was absolutely wrong and there is no proof." Participating in the debate, Gandhi accused the defence minister of speaking "untruth" on the deal.
"The Defence Minister has spoken 'untruth'. The French prime minister has personally told me that there is no secret pact between Indian and French governments," he said demanding that the prime minister answer why this contract was given to a particular businessman after taking it away from PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
"Everybody understands the relationship the prime minister has with certain people. Everybody understands the amount of money that goes into the marketing of the prime minister and everybody knows who have funded that. One of those people was given the Rafale contract. The gentleman benefited to the tune of Rs 45,000 crore," he alleged.
India had signed a government-to-government deal with France in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of about Rs 58,000 crore.
The Congress has been demanding that its details be made public, alleging that the deal negotiated under its rule was much cheaper than the contract signed by the Modi government.