MUMBAI: In a sharp contrast to his previous stand, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said he never defended Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Rafale deal and that he has always supported the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to make the facts public.
“The Rafale warplanes that were priced at Rs 650 crore earlier are now said to be priced at Rs 1,600 crore. I said there should be no escape by giving technical reasons and the government needs to announce the current price of the warplane. I have also demanded all-party inquiry and making public the relevant documents,” Pawar said on Monday at the NCP’s first Vijay Sankalp rally at Beed in the Marathwada region.
"The decision to purchase the jets was taken when the Congress-led UPA was in power. The price of jets was decided at Rs 650 crore under (then prime minister) Manmohan Singh. These jets were purchased at Rs 1,600 crore by Modi. I never supported this and would never do," he said.
Last week, Pawar in an interview to a Marathi news channel, had defended the PM. “Nobody doubts the intention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
The former defence minister also said the Opposition’s demand to share technical details related to the fighter jets “made no sense”, but added there was no harm for the government to disclose the prices.
Soon, there were a string of resignations from the party — the most notable being NCP co-founder Tariq Anwar and general secretary Munaf Hakim. Sensing the brewing revolt in his party over his statement, Pawar used the party’s rally to clarify his stand.
While Anwar and Hakim resigned saying Pawar weakened the voice of the opposition, the likes of Supriya Sule and Praful Patel sought to downplay it. In an official statement, the NCP had clarified that Pawar did not give a clean chit to Modi. NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik had reiterated the party’s demand that the Centre disclose the price of the fighter jets and a JPC probe in the matter.
On Monday, Pawar also criticized the government over several other issues, including fuel prices. “If the state faces drought this year, the government will have to declare complete loan waiver,” he added.
Addressing a party meeting in Beed in the Marathwada region earlier in the day, Pawar said, "Some people have criticised me saying I supported him (Modi). I have not supported him. I did not (support Modi) and will never (do that)".
He said, "They (the government) bought the aircraft. I am saying this clearly that the government should explain to Parliament why the cost of the aircraft rose from Rs 650 crore (per plane) to Rs 1,600 crore".
In a tweet in Marathi, Pawar said, "(Former Prime Minister) Rajiv Gandhi had faced an enquiry when allegations were raised in the Bofors matter (in the 80s), but nothing came out of that probe.
Those who had demanded a probe at that time are now in power, but they are keeping mum on Rafale deal. The country is looted in this deal."
"The Centre should explain to Parliament the escalation of the price of Rafale aircraft from Rs 650 crore to Rs 1,600 crore.
This episode need to be probed and the documents of the deal should be placed before all parties," he said in another tweet.
आम्ही सत्तेत असताना राफेल विमानांच्या खरेदीचा निर्णय झाला. किंमत ठरलेली होती. मात्र डॉ. मनमोहन सिंग यांच्या काळात ठरलेली रु. ६५० कोटींची विमाने मोदींनी १६०० कोटींना विकत घेतली. त्यांचं समर्थन मी अजिबात केलेलं नाही आणि कधी करणारही नाही.#RafaleDeal pic.twitter.com/3udptou58h— Sharad Pawar (@PawarSpeaks) October 1, 2018
Pawar's previous statement that people had no doubt about Modi's intentions in the Rafale deal had came at a time the Congress has launched a pointed attack on the prime minister over the issue, and is trying to forge an alliance with the NCP for future polls.
Objecting to Pawar's remark, NCP founder member Tariq Anwar and general secretary Munaf Hakim had quit the party last week.
Pawar's recent comment which was inferred as defence of Modi was welcomed by the BJP and party president Amit Shah had thanked Pawar for the same.
However, the NCP had claimed that Pawar was quoted out of context by the media.
The NCP chief on Monday reiterated the demand for a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) into the Rafale deal and demanded the government share details of the prices of the 36 fighter jets.
The former defence minister also said there was no need to make public the technical details relating to the aircraft.
Pawar, who served as agriculture minister under the erstwhile Manmohan Singh government, also hit out at the Central and Maharashtra governments over agrarian issues.
Hailing the previous UPA government's decision to write off farm loans worth Rs 71,000 crore, he alleged that the Maharashtra government is insensitive to the plight of farmers.
"Thousands of farmers are committing suicide in Maharashtra including in Beed district. Indebtedness is one of the reasons behind the farmers taking the extreme step," Pawar said, adding crops are dying due to lack of rains.
Addressing the rally, he questioned the government over the quota demands being raised by various communities like Dhangar, Muslims and Maratha.
Pawar alleged that the government was misusing its power to harass workers and leaders of other parties.
"The prime minister speaks his 'Mann ki Baat' but not 'Jan ki Baat'.
He never listens to the grievances of farmers, minorities and youths," the NCP chief said.
(with PTI inputs)