Jeypore (Odisha): Sharpening his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Rafale deal, Congress president Rahul Gandhi Friday accused him of having prepared the new contract for purchase of fighter jets from France, sidlining the official negotiating team in order to benefit Anil Ambani.
Gandhi, who addressed a Congress rally and interacted with women on the International Women's Day here, said public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which produces fighter aircraft, was ignored by Modi in Rafale deal.
The Congress chief claimed that Defence Ministry documents published in an English daily showed "Modi prepared a new contract ignoring the negotiating team. Modi's aim was to hand over Rs 30,000 crore to Ambani".
The Anil Dhirubhai Ambani group has persistently rejected Congress's claim and said the central government had nothing to do with the company bagging the offset contract from Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the Rafale jets.
Referring to HAL's unit in Odisha near here, Gandhi said engines of MiG and Sukhoi fighters were made at the plant in Sunabeda. The country's youth, mainly in Odisha, played a role in its defence through the unit.
"But Modi, who speaks of nationalism and patriotism, doled out Air Force's money to Anil Ambani, who has no experience in aircraft manufacturing.
"This is the truth.... by snatching away Rafale from HAL, Modi has deprived thousands of youth of jobs," he said.
While HAL has no pending loans, Ambani owes his lenders a debt of Rs 45,000 crore, Gandhi said, adding the previous UPA government had decided to award the contract for manufacturing Rafale to the state-owned aerospace and defence major.
Each of the 126 jets proposed to be acquired was to cost Rs 526 crore, but the price was escalated to Rs 1,600 crore apiece to benefit Ambani, the Congress chief alleged.
The prime minister, he claimed, had even told France that if Rafale jets were to be purchased, the (offset) contract should go to Ambani and that HAL should not have any role.
Accusing the prime minister of neglecting farmers, the Congress chief said PM-KISAN scheme launched by the BJP-led government is nothing but an attempt to make a "mockery" of poor farmers by doling out a paltry sum of Rs 6,000 annually.
Though the Modi government refused to waive farm loans and hike the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for paddy, it readily decided to write off the debts of over Rs 3.5 lakh crore of a handful of industrialists, he claimed.
The Congress, on the other hand, waived farm loans and raised MSP for paddy to Rs 2,500 per quintal in states where it came to power after the recent elections.
He also promised loan waiver for farmers and a hike in MSP for paddy to Rs 2,500 from Rs 1,600 per quintal in Odisha within 10 days if the Congress forms its government after the upcoming election.
The Congress president also lashed out at the Centre for trying to amend the Land Acquisition Act so it could easily snatch away the land of tribals and farmers, and hand them over to industrialists. However, the Congress foiled the "evil design" at least thrice as it believes that no tribal land should be acquired without the consent of its owners, he said.
Insisting that tribal land acquired for setting up industries must be returned if no unit is established within four years, he said land parcels in Chhattisgarh's Bastar district were returned by the Congress dispensation on this ground.
He said the minimum guaranteed income proposed by his party would be a historic move.
The Congress leader accused the prime minister of having misled people by giving "false" information on several issues including unemployment figures, farmers problems, Swachh Bharat scheme and women's safety.
"The number of lies that Modi has told the country is more than the lies told by all previous prime ministers put together," Gandhi said, blaming the Centre's policies for alleged growing unemployment and crimes against women.
Winding up his speech at the well-attended rally in this south Odisha town in tribal-dominated Koraput district, the Congress president, in an apparent dig at Modi said, "We do not want to make you hear our mann ki baat, we want to provide a government that hears your mann ki baat."
This was Gandhi's third visit to Odisha, the state where the Congress has been out of power for nearly two decades, in the last two months.
Earlier in the day, reaching out to the huge constituency of women voters ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, Gandhi promised passage of the Women's Reservation Bill, in limbo for the last nine years since being cleared by the Rajya Sabha, if his party is voted to power.
Interacting with women on the International Women's Day, Gandhi exhorted them to fight for "space" in every sphere of life as the country cannot progress without their effective and equal participation.
"You must fight for your space and don't consider yourself lesser than a man. Women should fight for due place - be it the Assembly, Lok Sabha or the business field," he said responding to a query by a woman delegate at the conclave.
"There is an urgent need to provide reservation for women in state assemblies and Lok Sabha to ensure their empowerment. Congress is keen to ensure this and will do it if it voted to power," Gandhi said, calling Women's Reservation Bill an effective instrument for their empowerment.