New Delhi: Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday tore into Congress during a discussion in Lok Sabha and said that the Rafale deal was not a scam but a decision would bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi back in power. In a no-holds-barred attack, Sitharaman claimed that the Congress ignored national security and had not gone ahead with the deal when it was in power as it “didn’t get the money”.
Hitting out at “Mananiya Sh Rahul Gandhi ji”, the Union minister said that there is something different between defence deal and deal in defence. “We deal with national security as a priority,” said Sitharaman.
During her nearly two-hour-long reply, the minister further informed Parliament that the delivery of first Rafale will happen in 2019 and the last aircraft of 36 jets will be delivered in 2022. She also revealed that the base price of each Rafale jet is Rs 670 crore, adding the process of negotiation was concluded in 14 months.
Seemingly in no mood to spare Rahul Gandhi for his continuous attacks on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi over Rafale deal, Sitharaman, without uttering any name, said: “For every AA there is not just an RV but a ‘Q’ also. Abbreviations for a joke can be easy for anybody… it’s a double-edged sword, it can come back.”
Sitharaman further accused the Congress of spreading lies and misleading the country on Rafale deal, and gave a “point-by-point” rebuttal to opposition’s allegations.
“Defence Ministry has been functioning without dalals (middlemen) during five years of (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. Rafale is a decision in national interest. I don’t want to talk about Bofors because Bofors was a scam and Rafale is not. Bofors brought them down. Rafale will bring us back, Rafale will bring Modi back to have a new and transforming India and remove the corruption which is stinking around the Congress,” the minister said.
Responding to Rahul Gandhi’s charge, Sitharaman said that the Indian Air Force had suggested the government to purchase two squadrons or 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition instead of 18, which was planned under the Congress-led UPA government.
“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.
“Emergency purchases are always two squadrons. In 1982, when Pakistan was buying F-16s, the Indian government then decided to buy two squadrons of MIG-23 MF from the erstwhile Soviet Union. In 1985 again, two squadrons of Mirage 2000 were purchased from France and in 1987, two squadrons of MIG-29 were bought,” mentioned Sitharaman.
She further alleged that Congress compromised with national security in the interest of the party’s “treasury” while taking a decision on purchasing 126 fighter jets.
Talking about the difference in pricing, Sitharaman said the price negotiated by the NDA government is nine per cent lower than what was done by Congress-led 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, adding: “The price of the basic aircraft cannot be compared with price of weaponised aircraft.”
The minister further accused the Congress of shedding “crocodile tears” on the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) not getting the offset contract.
“The Congress government gave 53 waivers to HAL. We have given contracts worth Rs 1 lakh crore,” said the minister.
Addressing Mallikarjun Kharge, who is a member of Standing Committee that looked into several issues related to Defence production, Sitharaman said the Congress leader had said in a report: “Standing Committee is disappointed to know that even after three decades, HAL has not been able to develop the required aircraft.”
Slamming the Congress, 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.”
Sitharaman also asked Rahul Gandhi to authenticate his claim that a French leader had told him that there was no secrecy clause in the deal on the floor of the house.
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