The Rafale controversy has activated a crisis in Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), a key opposition party, just months before the 2019 national election. Tariq Anwar, a founder member, said today that he had resigned after Sharad Pawar’s “defence” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Tariq Anwar announced in his Lok Sabha constituency Katihar in Bihar that he was quitting all posts in the party and also parliament.
“I was hurt by Sharad Pawar’s comments,” said the senior NCP leader.
Besides being hurt, Mr Anwar termed Sharad Pawar’s statement as “unfortunate”. He told the media that he completely “disagreed” with the leadership.
In an interview to a Marathi news channel this week, Sharad Pawar, who shares a good relationship with PM Modi despite being a prominent face of the opposition, had said: “There is no doubt in public minds about Modi’s intentions in the Rafale deal, that’s what I feel.”
Mr Pawar, a former defence minister, also said the Opposition’s demand for technical details on the fighter jet deal “made no sense”.
Seizing the comments, Amit Shah, the president of the ruling BJP, put out a tweet “thanking” Mr Pawar and attacking Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has been one of the sharpest critics of the Rafale deal. “I thank Sharad Pawar, a former Defence Minister and veteran MP, 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,” Amit Shah tweeted.
The Congress and other opposition parties have accused the government of lack of transparency in the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal for 36 fighters from France’s Dassault Aviation. Last week, ex-French president Francois Hollande set the cat among the pigeons by saying that France was given no choice in the selection of industrialist Anil Ambani’s inexperienced Reliance Defence as offset partner for Rafale-maker Dassault.
The NCP insisted its chief’s words did not mean a clean chit to PM Modi on Rafale. The party’s spokesperson Nawab Malik said people “initially” didn’t have doubts about the prime minister.
“What Pawar saheb said was that the way the matter is being hushed up (by the government) and attention of people from the issue is being diverted, the doubt is deepening,” Mr Malik said.
Tariq Anwar, a former union minister, has been backing the Congress demand for an all-party Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the deal.
“No decision has been taken so far about my future political move. I will be deciding that after consulting my supporters,” he said, on the possibility of his return to his former party Congress.
Prem Chand Mishra, a Congress leader, described Mr Anwar as a “fine leader” and said: “We shall be eagerly looking at his next political move.”
A former president of Congress’ Bihar unit, Tariq Anwar formed the NCP in the 1990s along with Sharad Pawar and PA Sangma, fiercely opposing Sonia Gandhi’s appointment as party president on grounds of her foreign origin.