Politics

As Sitharaman Defends Rafale Deal, Congress Asks BJP to Properly Refute Allegations

The defence minister clarified that not “a single procedure was violated” during the purchase and that when the Modi government came to power, “the situation was grim” and that it had “to move forward fast”.

Defence minister Niramala Sitharaman addressing a press conference on the Rafale deal. Credit: Twitter

Defence minister Niramala Sitharaman addressing a press conference on the Rafale deal. Credit: Twitter

New Delhi: Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday rejected recent allegations made by the Congress with regard to the 2016 Rafale fighter jet deal.

According to a NDTV report, she said the the decision to buy the fighter jets was taken by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government. Curiously, she added that the Congress could not finalise the deal over the next decade.

The Congress had sealed the deal with Dassault Aviation in 2012. However, this was later cancelled and then drastically modified by the Modi government in 2015. In September 2016, a $8-billion deal for just 36 aircraft was eventually signed.

The defence minister justified the new deal by saying that when the Modi government came to power, “the situation was grim” and that it had “to move forward fast”.

However, she asserted that the current agreement was signed after multiple discussions between the Indian and French sides and approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security.

“…not a single procedure was violated in procuring the jets…These allegations are shameful…the deal was finalized following a transparent procedure,” she said in the presence of the defence secretary Sanjay Mitra and the deputy chief of the air staff Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar.

Her comments came a day after the Air Force Chief B S Dhanoa rubbished Congress’ allegations. “We have negotiated a better deal in the Rafale contract than what was in the MMRCA contract (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft finalized during UPA tenure)…It is a cheaper deal,”he told reporters but did not elaborate on his point.

According to the information available in the public domain, mostly culled out of government’s own declarations, it is clear that the new jets would be purchased at a vastly higher price than what was negotiated by the UPA government.

Both Sitharaman and Dhanoa however have not yet  answered specific questions raised by the Congress.

On Friday, the Congress reiterated its earlier set of questions and demanded that the Modi government answer and stop dodging.

“India’s defence preparedness cannot be a subject matter of politicking nor can the sacrosanct premises of ‘Defence Ministry’ be used for political mudslinging as is being done by Modi government and its Defence Minister,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said in a statement.

Responding to the defence minister’s justification, Surjewala repeated some of the questions his party had asked earlier this week. Some of them are reproduced below:

  • Is it not true that on the date of announcement of purchase of 36 Rafale Aircrafts by PM on 10th April, 2015; no procedure had been followed? Is it also not true that as per Defence Procurement Procedure, 2013; ‘Contract Negotiations Committee’ i.e. CNC and ‘Price Negoations Committee’ i.e. PNC had to first make price discovery followed by inter-governmental agreement, which would follow the announcement of the purchase? Is it not true that on 10th April, 2015; none of these had been followed?
  • Why was the public sector undertaking, HAL by-passed for getting 30,000 crore worth offset contract despite the work share agreement dated 13.03.2014 between HAL and Dassault Aviation? Why did the Prime Minister promote the interests of a private corporate entity over a public sector undertaking?
  • Is it not correct that HAL is the only Indian entity which has decades of experience of building aircrafts? How was HAL by-passed in favour of Reliance, when Reliance had zero experience of building fighter aircrafts? Even Reliance Group and Shri Anil Ambani have admitted to being present at the time PM unilaterally announced purchase of 36 Rafale Aircrafts on 10th April, 2015. Why is Defence Minister denying this important fact?
  • UPA contract for purchase of 126 Rafale Aircrafts ensured transfer of technology. Why does the Defence Minister feel that transfer of technology does not make sense for Indian strategic interest? Would it then not mean doubling the life cycle cost as there would be perpetual defendant on Dassault Aviation for all subsequent maintenance, overhaul and upgradation of aircrafts?