The ruling party is planning an offensive to counter the opposition “false propaganda” in the perception battle on the matter

NEW DELHI: With the Congress upping the ante on the Rafale jet deal, BJP dragged Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra into the picture, alleging that his firm was keen on getting a share in the offset and failure to do so has prompted the principal opposition to cry foul on the issue. The ruling party is also planning an offensive to counter the opposition “false propaganda” in the perception battle on the matter.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters that there is an “international dimension” as well to Gandhi levelling these charges, taking further the stand taken by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley that Gandhi and former French President Francois Hollande were in cohorts with each other.

“There is an international Gatbandhan (alliance) at work...,” Sitharaman said. He mentioned the tweet by Gandhi anticipating a “Rafale bomb” from France and Hollande’s remarks that there was pressure from India to choose Reliance as the offset partner in the Rafale deal came a few days later.

BJP also undertook a counter offensive, with union minister Gajendra Shekhawat alleging at a press interaction that Vadra and his close business associate Sanjay Bhandari had tried to get a share in the offset in Rafale deal with Dassault when the Congress-led UPA was in power.

“Sanjay Bhandari, who would book plane tickets for Vadra, get the interiors of Vadra’s London flat done, and handle his real estate deals, was seen with him at the Dubai Defence Expo. The Gandhi family wanted that the deal should be through Vadra’s company,” Shekhawat said.

Since this attempt failed after the UPA was voted out in 2014, Congress is now levelling these allegations about the deal. Congress kept the Rafale contract hanging and thus compromised the defence preparedness of the nation and lowered the morale of the Indian Air Force, BJP said.

As reported by ET earlier, Bhandari’s company Offsets India Solutions had tried to enter the fray and applied “considerable pressure” for a slice of the work.

OIS virtually shut down after Bhandari fled to London in February 2017 after a probe into his business functions by ED.

OIS had approached Dassault for a partnership but the French company decided against it after a few rounds of talks. Bhandari’s perceived proximity to Vadra was said to be a strong factor. In May 2016, Bhandari’s offices in New Delhi were raided by ED which was probing charges of wrongly influencing defence deals. Bhandari was also booked under Official Secrets Act.