View of the assembly line of the Rafale jet fighter, in the factory of French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation, in Merignac near Bordeaux, southwestern France. (Photo: Reuters)

Rafale Jet Deal: France Says It Inked Pact With India To Protect Classified Information

Hours after Congress President Rahul Gandhi accused the Narendra Modi government of “lying” to the nation on the Rafale fighter jet deal, France said it’s bound by a pact not to reveal classified information.

The European nation had signed a security pact with India in 2008 which legally binds the two countries to protect classified information that could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment, a French Foreign Ministry spokesperson said. He, however, did not clarify whether the provisions of the pact restrict the Indian government from disclosing the price of the fighter jets.

Talking about the deal, Gandhi described the prime minister as a “bhagidaar” (collaborator) in cases of alleged corruption, not a “chowkidaar” (guard). Addressing the Lok Sabha during the debate on the no-confidence motion against the NDA government, he said the French president had clearly conveyed to him during a meeting that there was no problem in sharing pricing details of the Rs 58,000-crore deal.

Alleging corruption in the deal, the Congress has been demanding details, including cost of equipment and weapons, but the government has refused to share them citing the secrecy pact with France.

In one of his sharpest attacks on the government on the issue of alleged graft, Gandhi also trained his guns on Modi. “I can see him smiling. There is a touch of nervousness. He is looking away, not looking into my eyes,” he said, intensifying protests from the treasury benches with opposition members members rising to their feet to counter them.

“The French president told me there is no such pact between the French and Indian governments,” he said. “This is the truth, and he told me that I have no objection to it (details of Rafale deal) being made public, you can tell it to entire India.”

The Congress president alleged that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was lying to the country under pressure from the prime minister. “Who is being helped, why is the help being given, Nirmala ji, the prime minister should tell the country.”

Vehemently rejecting the charges, Sitharaman said the secrecy agreement with France was signed in 2008 and the Rafale deal was covered under it. “As per article 10 of the Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) between India and France, on purchase of Rafale aircraft, protection of classified information and materials exchanged under IGA shall be governed by provisions of security agreement signed on January 25, 2008,” she said.

Sitharaman said the pact was inked during the UPA regime when AK Antony was the defence minister. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar also rejected the charges.

India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore, nearly one-and-half years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the proposal during a visit to Paris. The delivery of the jets is scheduled to begin from September 2019.

The Congress had raised several questions about the deal including the rates, and accused the government of compromising national interest and security while causing a loss to the public exchequer. The Congress has alleged that the deal negotiated under its rule was much cheaper than the contract signed by the Modi government.

The Congress also claimed that Qatar had purchased 12 Rafale fighter jets in November 2017 for $108.33 million per aircraft (Rs 694.80 crore), noting that per aircraft rate at which the Gulf nation is buying the jet is much lower than at which India will buy them.