Under flak for allegedly "defending" Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Rafale deal, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Monday said that he would "never" do that and claimed the country was "looted" in the multi-billion dollar fighter jet purchase from France.
Pawar's comment comes days after his earlier statement that people had no doubt about Modi's intentions in the purchase of the fighter jets, was inferred as defence of the prime minister.
He demanded that the government explain to Parliament the escalation in price of Rafale jets from Rs 650 crore during the UPA rule to Rs 1,600 crore under Modi.
The NCP leader, who is being seen as a key figure in galvanising opposition parties as a common force against the ruling BJP, rejected the reports that he had ever supported the escalation of the price of the fighter jets.
"The decision to purchase the jets was taken when the Congress-led UPA was in power. The price of jets was decided at Rs 650 crore under (then prime minister) Manmohan Singh. These jets were purchased at Rs 1,600 crore by Modi. I never supported this and would never do," he said.
Addressing a party meeting in Beed in the Marathwada region earlier in the day, Pawar said, "Some people have criticised me saying I supported him (Modi). I have not supported him. I did not (support Modi) and will never (do that)".
He said, "They (the government) bought the aircraft. I am saying this clearly that the government should explain to Parliament why the cost of the aircraft rose from Rs 650 crore (per plane) to Rs 1,600 crore".
In a tweet in Marathi, Pawar said, "(Former Prime Minister) Rajiv Gandhi had faced an enquiry when allegations were raised in the Bofors matter (in the 80s), but nothing came out of that probe. Those who had demanded a probe at that time are now in power, but they are keeping mum on Rafale deal. The country is looted in this deal."
"The Centre should explain to Parliament the escalation of the price of Rafale aircraft from Rs 650 crore to Rs 1,600 crore. This episode need to be probed and the documents of the deal should be placed before all parties," he said in another tweet.
Pawar's previous statement that people had no doubt about Modi's intentions in the Rafale deal had came at a time the Congress has launched a pointed attack on the prime minister over the issue, and is trying to forge an alliance with the NCP for future polls.
Objecting to Pawar's remark, NCP founder member Tariq Anwar and general secretary Munaf Hakim had quit the party last week.
Pawar's recent comment which was inferred as defence of Modi was welcomed by the BJP and party president Amit Shah had thanked Pawar for the same.
However, the NCP had claimed that Pawar was quoted out of context by the media.
The NCP chief on Monday reiterated the demand for a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee into the Rafale deal and demanded the government share details of the prices of the 36 fighter jets. The former defence minister also said there was no need to make public the technical details relating to the aircraft.
Pawar, who served as agriculture minister under the erstwhile Manmohan Singh government, also hit out at the Central and Maharashtra governments over agrarian issues.
Hailing the previous UPA government's decision to write off farm loans worth Rs 71,000 crore, he alleged that the Maharashtra government is insensitive to the plight of farmers.
"Thousands of farmers are committing suicide in Maharashtra including in Beed district. Indebtedness is one of the reasons behind the farmers taking the extreme step," Pawar said, adding crops are dying due to lack of rains.
Addressing the rally, he questioned the government over the quota demands being raised by various communities like Dhangar, Muslims and Maratha.
Pawar alleged that the government was misusing its power to harass workers and leaders of other parties.
"The prime minister speaks his 'Mann ki Baat' but not 'Jan ki Baat'. He never listens to the grievances of farmers, minorities and youths," the NCP chief said.