NEW DELHI: The Congress Thursday demanded that Nirmala Sitharaman resigns as defence minister for "lying" on the Rafale deal and said her "position has become untenable" as a former HAL chief has "nailed her lie".
Party president Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to attack Sitharaman and accused her of "lying" on the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's capability to build Rafale aircraft.
"The RM (Rafale Minister) tasked with defending corruption has been caught lying again. The former HAL Chief, T S Raju, has nailed her lie, that HAL didn't have the capability to build the RAFALE. Her position is untenable & she must resign," he tweeted and tagged a media report on the former HAL chief's assertion.
The RM (Rafale Minister) tasked with defending corruption has been caught lying again. The former HAL Chief, T S Raju, has nailed her lie, that HAL didn’t have the capability to build the RAFALE. Her position is untenable & she must resign. https://t.co/7mKXV5wo8x— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) September 20, 2018
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said Sitharaman should resign for allegedly "misleading" the people on the Rafale deal and said the government's arguments have been "demolished" by the statement of a former chief of the state-run HAL.
He cited the remarks of former HAL chief T Suvarna Raju to attack Sitharaman over the issue of HAL's capability to build the Rafale aircraft.
Tewari hit out at Sitharaman for alleging that the UPA did not extend support to HAL when the state-run company was engaged in talks with French firm Dassault Aviation for the manufacturer of Rafale jets in India under the offset agreement.
He said the former HAL chief had made certain "extremely pertinent points" that "absolutely demolish" the entire case that the NDA government has been trying to build on the Rafale issue.
"We demand the resignation of the defence minister on the charge of misleading the people of India. After the disclosure which has been made today by the former head of HAL, the defence minister has no moral authority or no moral right to continue even for a second," he said.
Tewari said that Raju had made it clear in his statement that HAL and Dassault had signed the mutual workshare contract and given it to the government.
The first question that arises is that did the defence minister of India intentionally tried to mislead the people of India, the Congress leader said.
He also reiterated the Congress demand of a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale deal.
The Congress spokesperson also cited that Raju had stated that HAL would have built Rafale jets, had the government closed the original contract for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).
Therefore, the government's argument that because HAL and Dassault could not come to an agreement and so the 126 MMRCA contract had to be scrapped does not hold, he said.
"What has happened today has really blown the defence minister's assertion out of the water," Tewari said.
He also cited Raju's remarks that HAL had built a 25-tonne Sukhoi-30, a fourth-generation fighter jet that forms the mainstay of the Air Force, from raw material stage, and maintained the Mirage-2000 aircraft, manufactured by Rafale maker Dassault Aviation, to highlight the public sector undertaking's capability.
"The nailer is that he (ex-HAL chief) says that if the 126 MMRCA contract would have gone through, India would have been self reliant in so far as the fighter aircraft platform is concerned," Tewari said.
"What happened to Make in India. Make in India seems to have gone out the window," he said.
The Congress has alleged that the government caused loss of over Rs 41,000 crore to the exchequer and endangered national security by bypassing the state-run HAL in favour of some businessman "friends" for offset contract in the Rafale deal.
Under India's offset policy, foreign defence entities are mandated to spend at least 30 per cent of the total contract value in India through procurement of components or setting up of research and development facilities.
Sitharaman had earlier told PTI that it was former defence minister A K Antony's unprecedented intervention that led to the deal being cancelled after the price negotiation committee had almost finalised the deal.
The charge has been denied by Antony as false.
Sitharaman had also accused Antony of not supporting HAL in getting the Rafale deal.
The Congress has stepped up the attack on the government over the Rafale deal and is seeking to make it a major poll issue ahead of assembly elections in some key states later this year and the parliamentary election in 2019.