In her nearly two-hour long defence in the Lok Sabha of the Narendra Modi government’s decision to purchase Rafale fighter jets, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday alleged that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government stalled the deal as it “didn’t get money”, and neglected national security concerns.
Replying to the discussion in the House, Sitharaman said the Congress has resorted to falsehoods to mislead the country. In her “point-by-point” rebuttal to the Opposition's allegations, including on the price of the aircraft, and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) not getting the offset contract, Sitharaman said: “Defence ministry has been functioning without dalals (middlemen) during the five years of Modi. Rafale is a decision in national interest.”
Turning visibly emotional on a couple of occasions, she said, “I don't want to talk about Bofors because it is a scam, and not Rafale. Bofors brought you down. Rafale will bring Modi back to a new and transforming India, and remove corruption which is stinking around the Congress.” The discussion had started on Wednesday, with Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, among others, speaking on the issue.
Prior to Sitharaman's reply, Gandhi said outside Parliament that his party, if it were to come to power at the Centre in 2019, would order a criminal investigation into the Rafale deal. He accused the PM of running away from the debate, and put forth a series of questions he said the defence minister should answer.
Gandhi said the defence minister delivered a long speech but “ran away” from answering the issues he had flagged. "She did not even take the name of Anil Ambani," he said.
He said he had asked two questions, and wanted her to reply in a yes or no, including whether those who participated in the Rafale negotiations — the Air Force chief, defence minister, secretaries, Air Force officials — object to the PM’s “bypass surgery”? Instead of answering, she “started doing drama that 'I have been insulted, I was called a liar'," he said.
Gandhi said the finance minister should answer the questions on the deal, instead of hurling personal abuses at him. He reiterated the Opposition’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the deal.
On the narrative for the 2019 polls, he said, “It is jobs for Indians. Second is destruction of the economy by Narendra Modi, and providing education and healthcare to all. Lastly, the immense corruption by Modi, and stealing of Rs 30,000 crore and giving it to his friend Anil Ambani.”
In her reply, Sitharaman said the Indian Air Force had suggested the government buy two squadrons or 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition instead of 18. On pricing difference, she said there was no formal price noting by the Congress of the Rs 526 crore as the deal price, and the price negotiated by the Modi government is 9 per cent lower than UPA. ‘The price of the basic aircraft cannot be compared with the price of weaponised aircraft,” she said.
Sitharaman accused the Congress of shedding "crocodile tears" on HAL, as it did nothing to scale up the capacity of the state-run firm, while the Modi government has given Rs 1 trillion worth of contracts to the PSU. "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.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who also heads Parliament’s public accounts committee, accused the government of lying before the Supreme Court by citing a "non-existent" Comptroller and Auditor General, or CAG, report on Rafale deal.