Sitharaman befitting reply on Rafale, says defense min running without 'dalals'
Tearing into the Congress on the Rafale deal issue, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday alleged that the party stalled the deal when it was in power as it "didn't get money" and ignored national security. During her nearly two-hour-long reply to a discussion on Rafale issue in Lok Sabha, Sitharaman accused the Congress of resorting to falsehood to mislead the country and gave "point-by-point" rebuttal to opposition's allegations including on price of the fighter aircraft and HAL not getting the offset contract.
"Defence Ministry has been functioning without dalals (middlemen) during five years of (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. Rafale is a decision in the national interest. "I don't want to talk about Bofors because that is a scam and not Rafale. Bofors brought you down. Rafale will bring Modi back to have a new and transforming India and remove corruption which is stinking around the Congress," the Minister said. Countering the Congress' charge, she said that it was the Indian Air Force which suggested that the government buy two squadrons or 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition instead of 18, as was planned to be purchased under the Congress-led UPA government.
She accused the Congress of compromising with national security in the interest of the party's "treasury" while deciding on buying 126 fighter jets. Under the deal finalised by the NDA government, the delivery of first Rafale will happen in 2019, while the last of 36 jets will be delivered in 2022, the minister informed the house. With regard to pricing difference, Sitharaman said there was no formal price noting by the Congress of Rs 526 crore as the deal price.
But the price negotiated by the NDA government is nine per cent lower than what was negotiated by UPA. "Comparing the cost of Rs 526 crore with Rs 1,600 crore is like comparing apples to oranges. The cost quoted in 2007 will it remain the same in 2016 because there is escalation cost and there is exchange rate variation," she said. "The price of the basic aircraft cannot be compared with the price of weaponised aircraft," the minister further said.
Sitharaman alleged that the Congress was only shedding "crocodile tears" on the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) not getting the offset contract as it did nothing to scale up the capacity of the state-run firm. Whereas the BJP-led NDA government gave Rs one lakh crore worth of contracts to HAL, she said. Referring to negotiations of the Rafale deal during the rule of Congress-led UPA, the Minister said, "You stopped the deal, forgetting Air Force was suffering. "You didn't conclude the deal, because it didn't suit you. The deal didn't get you money," she alleged. "They did not intend to buy the aircraft till something else was done. There is something different between defence deal and deal in defence," she said, asserting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government gave priority to national security.
"You are misleading the country by saying the NDA government reduced 126 Rafale jets to 36. Congress was supposed to buy 18 in fly-away condition, the NDA raised that to 36," she said. Talking about ADAG group, which got the offset contract for the fighter jet deals, the Minister said the company obtained 53 waivers and concessions during the Congress-led UPA regime. While countering Congress president Rahul Gandhi's claim that a French leader had told him that there was no secrecy clause in the deal, Sitharaman asked Gandhi to authenticate his claim on the floor of the house.
Questioning the seriousness of the Congress in discussing the facts of the Rafale deal, Sitharaman said when Finance Minister and former Defence Minister Arun Jaitley was speaking in the House on Wednesday, the opposition party members were clicking pictures and throwing paper aeroplanes.
(With inputs from agencies.)