Pawar boosts PM on Rafale, adamant on JPC probe

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Mumbai (IANS): Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) President Sharad Pawar has said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's image has been unscathed in the ongoing Rafale fighter aircraft row, a statement the BJP heartily welcomed on Thursday.

"There is no doubt in public minds about Modi's intentions in the Rafale deal, that's what I feel," Pawar said in an interview with a Marathi news channel New18-Lokmat, aired on Wednesday.

However, concurring with the Congress-led opposition demands, Pawar made it clear that there should be a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the Rafale deal in depth to unravel the truth before the public.

"When the Bofors deal with signed, the BJP was in the opposition and vociferously demanded a JPC probe which the then ruling Congress conceded. The terms and conditions of secrecy and other aspects are common in both Bofors and the Rafale agreements. So a JPC must be appointed to clear the air on the Rafale issue," Pawar asserted.

While the Congress on Thursday terming it Pawar's "personal views" on the sensitive matter, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah grabbed the opportunity by thanking Pawar for "placing national interests above party politics and speaking the truth".

"Dear Rahul Gandhi, you would be wiser by believing your own ally and a leader of Pawar Saheb's stature," Shah said in a mocking tweet.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi has been calling Modi a "chor" (thief) on the Rafale deal.

Attempting a damage control exercise, senior NCP leader and MP Majeed Memon said Pawar's statement was being twisted out of context.

"There is absolutely no question of giving 'a clean chit' to anyone as suggested in some sections of the media," he said. 

"I wish to make it clear on behalf of Pawar that the JPC should focus on two main issues - the financials of the deal and the pricing of the aircraft, and why Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd was suddenly edged out. The financials are very important and they cannot hide behind the secrecy clause since it's the taxpayer's money," Memon told IANS.

Pawar further said that while the technical clause was confidential, there was nothing wrong in revealing the pricing of the deal.

He pointed out that during the Bofors controversy, BJP leader and now External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had even wanted the technical aspects revealed.

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