Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday attacked the Congress for a series of scams in defence deals in the past, and told the Lok Sabha that the Modi Government’s Rafale jet purchase was transparent and was executed in the interest of national security. During her nearly two-hour long reply to a discussion on the issue, Nirmala gave a “point-by-point” rebuttal to Opposition’s allegations, including on price of the fighter aircraft and HAL not getting the offset contract.
She alleged the Congress stalled the deal when it was in power as it “didn’t get money” and ignored national security.
“Defence Ministry has been functioning without dalals (middlemen) during five years of Prime Minister 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.
Countering 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 the 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 not remain the same in 2016, because there is escalation cost and there is exchange rate variation,” she said, adding that the price of the basic aircraft cannot be compared with price of weaponised aircraft.
Nirmala alleged that 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 1 lakh crore worth of contracts to HAL, she said.
Referring to negotiations of the Rafale deal during the rule of the 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 Anil Ambani’s Reliance 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, Nirmala asked Rahul to authenticate his claim on the floor of the house.
Questioning the seriousness of Congress in discussing the facts of the Rafale deal, Nirmala 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 airplanes.
“Nobody has a right to call me or the Prime Minister a thief and a liar. We came from a normal or middle class back ground and we deserve dignity like the persons belong to dynasties,” said a visibly angry Defence Minister while ending her speech. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan was seen asking her to calm down at one point when the Minister became aggressive emotional while asking the Opposition to refrain from allegations.
“We all come from normal background…I come from a middle class. The Prime Minister comes from a humble background. The Prime Minister’s name is untarnished, he is not corrupt. I have my honour intact,” she said, adding “you cannot insult us the way you want”.
Saturday, 05 January 2019 | PNS | New Delhi–
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