New Delhi – A multi-billion dollar deal for 36 French fighters Rafale managed to get the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition in India to face each other in the war.
More than 100 left-affiliated organizations will hold week-long protests across the country starting on Monday against what they allege is a "corrupt" agreement that favors one of India's richest industrialists.
Demonstrations and sit-ins, under the banner of & # 39; Jan Ekta Jan Adhikar Andolan & # 39; (Movement of Unity and Rights of the People) are being organized by teams backed by the left at the state and district levels to "raise awareness" about the "scam" of October 22-28.
As India prepares for what is expected to be a hotly contested general election in a few months, the protests are trying to highlight the alleged "irregularities" of the ruling right-wing government.
In 2016, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, signed an agreement for $ 8.7 billion for 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France, the first major acquisition of combat aircraft in two decades.
But since then he has faced criticism from India's opposition parties who allege gross faults in one of the country's largest defense agreements.
Opposition parties like Congress and the Left say that India overpaid for planes and also question why a private company with no experience in the defense sector, mogul Anil Ambani, Reliance Defense Ltd, received the contract instead from the state manufacturer, Hindustan. Limited Aeronautics.
Former French President François Hollande, who approved the deal when he was in office, caused a stir last month when he revealed that the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi forced Dassault Aviation to choose Ambani for the deal.
"We had no other choice, we took the partner that was given to us," Hollande said in an explosive interview with the French research news service Mediapart.
Modi's BJP denied the accusations.
& # 39; Massive Scam & # 39;
On Monday, Hannan Mollah, organizer of the demonstrations supported by the left and former legislator of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said the protests will help build public opinion.
"We are demanding a joint parliamentary commission to investigate the agreement, this is a massive scam, why has the number of aircraft decreased to 36 of the 126 previously planned? Why has the agreed price of airplanes tripled since 2014? Who is responsible for the final amount we are paying for the planes? Mollah told Al Jazeera from the city of Bengaluru.
"The government rejected the state defense firm HAL and forced France to hand over the contract to a private player, a businessman who is a friend of the government, which is a loving agreement," he said.
The opposition will counter the government's lies through grassroots protests, the leader of the left said.
"We will not let the government run away, we'll take it to the people, ninety percent of the people do not know that the public money has been looted, you have to tell them." There is also a strange silence from the Indian media that is No blaming the powers, "said Mollah.
Several members of the BJP denied the charges and said the opposition was undermining national security in its attempt to attack Modi.
"A lie repeated a hundred times can not become the truth." The CAG [India’s official auditing agency], who will audit the deal, is already investigating it. They will present a report to parliament. Let's wait for the report, "said Al Jazeera Sudhanshu Mittal, spokesperson for the BJP party.
The Defense of Trust did not respond to Al Jazeera's request for comment.
A week ago, the Supreme Court of India asked the government to provide details of the controversial agreement with France. The superior court ordered the government to explain the "process" followed while signing the agreement.
Last week, as the line intensified, a French aviation blog published details of a meeting between two unions in Dassault, the private company that started developing the plane in the mid-1980s.
The documents allegedly state that it was "imperative and mandatory" for Dassault Aviation to accept Reliance Aerospace to obtain the contract.
"Mr. Modi and his ministers have abused their authority as public officials by changing an almost complete agreement.The final agreement eliminates the need for technology transfer and also increases the prices of aircraft.That is an abuse of power to benefit to an indebted industrial Ambani, "said Al Jazeera Prashant Bhushan, a Supreme Court attorney.
"Dassault will be forced to say what is necessary to save the deal now, an impartial investigation will reveal everything, and we intend to file a petition in the higher court for an independent investigation," Bhushan added.
Meanwhile, caught in a political storm over the Rafale combat aircraft agreement, Ambani Reliance sent defamation notices worth millions of dollars to several politicians and media outlets in India, including the main private broadcaster, NDTV.
The Reliance group has asked the media group to "cease and desist" to level the accusations against it in relation to the Rafale agreement.
In a statement emailed to Al Jazeera, NDTV said it would argue before the court that it is a "hard-line attempt by Anil Ambani's group to repress the facts and prevent the media from doing their job: asking questions about a defense agreement and look for answers "that are very of public interest".
The political heat on the controversial agreement continues as leaders of different political groups plan to meet in New Delhi on Wednesday to push the opposition chorus in search of an investigation.