Deadwoods? Lawyer Prashant Bhushan with former ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha

Shourie, Sinha and Bhushan said they wondered why Modi had reduced the number of aircraft from 126 to just 36, 'disregarding' IAF's strategic needs

NEW DELHI: The NDA government is using men and women in uniform to defend the Rafale deal, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is personally "culpable" in the scam, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie and lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan alleged Tuesday.

The trio, at a press conference here, stepped up their attack on the prime minister, alleging that he "compromised" national security by reducing the number of the jets to 36 from the original proposal of 126 aircraft.

Referring to Vice Chief of Indian Air Force Air Marshal S B Deo's recent comments on Rafale, they said after being "totally exposed", the government is now using the senior military brass to defend the deal.

The opposition led by the Congress has been alleging massive irregularities in the deal, claiming that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,600 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government.

The government has rejected the charges.

Noting that that senior Air Force officials had made statements as to how Rafale is a "beautiful aircraft", Shourie, Sinha and Bhushan said they agreed with his views but wondered why Modi had reduced the number of aircraft from 126 to just 36, "disregarding" IAF's strategic needs.

The prime minister has done away with the Make In India component of the deal, under which the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) would have manufactured this "beautiful aircraft" in this country, they said in a statement.

"The PM is personally culpable in the Rafale scam," they alleged.

Last week Air Marshal Deo called Rafale a "beautiful" aircraft and said those criticising the deal must understand the procurement norms.

Deputy Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar has also countered allegations of any wrongdoing in the Rafale deal.

"They are making the Vice Chief of Air Force to lie. You (the government) asked him to say that IAF said buy 36 aircraft. This is a lie. The vice chief is lying. The Air Force never said before April 10, 2015, that buy 36 aircraft or India-specific add-ons. By making them lie the whole morale of the air force is being finished."

During his visit to France, Modi on April 10, 2015 announced that India will purchase 36 Rafale jets in a government-to-government agreement.

The Rs 58,000 crore deal was sealed in September 2016.

Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan also hit out at Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, referring to him as "blogging minister" for his recent online posts, defending the Rafale deal.

"The responses of Reliance, (Arun) Jaitley and the government at large, cumulatively show that award of offsets to Reliance-Dassault JV is a commission for the services that (Anil) Ambani provides to Modi," the trio claimed in a statement.

The opposition has also been accusing the government of trying to benefit the Reliance Defence Ltd (RDL) under the offset clauses of the deal.

The Reliance Defence has strongly rejected the charges.

The RDL and Dassault Aviation, makers of Rafale jets, last year announced setting up of a joint venture.

"That national security has been compromised by the Prime Minister and every rule of procurement flouted to unilaterally reduce the number of planes from 126 to 36 and remove Make in India under Transfer of Technology by HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), despite the fact that IAF (Indian Air Force), DAC (Defence Acquisition Council), and MoD (Ministry of Defence) had come to a reasoned conclusion that 126 aircraft were required under Make in India for the long term needs and security of the country," they said.

The trio also alleged that every "explanation" being put out "ensnares the government and Anil Ambani's Reliance in the web of lies" they have spun.

Shourie, Sinha and Bhushan had made similar allegations last month and said that the Rafale deal was a case of "monumental criminal misconduct" by the NDA government.

They had claimed the "scam" in the Rafale deal was much bigger than the Bofors scandal and demanded a time-bound probe into the contract by national auditor CAG.