Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (left) and Congress President Rahul Gandhi (right)
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman (left) and Congress President Rahul Gandhi (right)

Govt accuses Cong of misleading nation on Rafale; Rahul says probe will be conducted if his party comes to power

ANI | Updated: Jan 04, 2019 21:56 IST

New Delhi [India], Jan 4 (ANI): The government on Friday accused the Congress of "misleading" the country over the Rafale deal and slammed Rahul Gandhi, who in turn, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be investigated and threatened a "criminal investigation" if his party comes to power.
As the face-off over the issue intensified, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman asserted in the Lok Sabha that the Congress was seeing corruption where none existed and asserted that "Rafale will bring back" Modi instead of ousting his government.
Sitharaman, while replying to a debate on the Rafale issue, said under the deal signed by the NDA government, the cost of each fighter plane will be Rs 670 crore each, 9 per cent lesser than the proposed cost of Rs 737 crore each to be bought during the previous UPA rule.
"Rafale can never be Bofors... Bofors was a scam but Rafale is not one," a combative Sitharaman said, referring to the scandal involving purchase of Bofors guns during the tenure of Rahul's father Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister in late 1980s, which led to the fall of his government.
Hitting out at Gandhi, she said he was scared of hearing the truth and that "for every double 'A' there is a 'Q' and 'RV', alluding to Ottavio Quattrocchi, the alleged middleman in the Bofors deal, and Robert Vadra, brother-in-law of Rahul Gandhi.
She said that the NDA government had eliminated "dalals" (middlemen) over the last five years.
Gandhi told Sitharaman, "I am not accusing you, I am not accusing (former Defence Minister) Manohar Parrikar. I am accusing the Prime Minister... Who brought Anil Ambani into the contract? The bypass surgery was conducted by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister was directly responsible".'
Outside the Parliament, the Congress President told reporters, "If we come to power in 2019, we will have an investigation conducted, a criminal investigation conducted and the people responsible will be punished."
Giving details, the Defence Minister said the cost of each basic Rafale aircraft proposed to be bought by the UPA government as per inflationary escalation was Rs 737 crore whereas the price of basic fighter under NDA government is Rs 670 crore each.
A basic fighter aircraft is without armament and electronic warfare systems.
The previous UPA government had proposed to procure 126 aircraft for the IAF and Rafale, manufactured by the French company Dassault, had emerged the lowest bidder in a tendering process.
Under that proposal, 18 fighters were to be bought in flyway condition and rest were to be manufactured in India.
However, the deal could not finally fructify and the NDA government in 2015 decided to by 36 Rafale aircraft in flyway condition.
Sitharaman accused the Congress of not doing enough towards strengthening the national security and said that "the IAF procurement was weakest under the UPA regime."
"If national security and the sense of urgency was there, why didn't you (Congress) bring aircraft to India? The IAF procurement was weakest under the UPA regime. China and Pakistan are building a bigger fleet. The UPA government wanted only 18 flyaway fighter jets. UPA created a deadlock," she said.
"We (Central Government) don't do defence dealings. We deal in defence with national security as a priority," she added.
The Minister informed the House that the first Rafale aircraft will be delivered to India in September 2019 and 36 aircraft will be delivered in the year 2022.
Replying to allegations that due processes were not followed, Sitharaman said negotiations were initiated in May 2015 and completed in 14 months.
The Defence Minister reminded the Opposition that while India added no fighter aircraft, its hostile neighbours kept strengthening and enhancing their air power.
"China added 400 aircrafts between 2004-14 including Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft while Pakistan increased aircraft by doubling its F16", Sitharaman told the House.
"This is a matter of national security and in this forgetting the importance of having to buy it in time this is the kind of khilwad (joke) which was going on," she said.
Sitharaman said: "Independent monitor who was appointed by the Raksha Mantri then cleared the process. But in June 2012 even after clearance by the independent monitor, they (Congress) did not buy it. why?"
Lambasting the Congress party, Sitharaman said there is a difference between defence dealings and dealing in defence.
"You have a commercial bid anywhere. After the bid is opened, will there be any interference? They (Congress) are now talking about interference from the PMO. This is interference? Because, somebody did not receive something somewhere? This is interference? You stopped the deal forgetting that the Air Force was suffering," she said.
"We don't do defence dealings. We deal in defence with national security as a priority." the Defence Minister added.
Sitharaman said that the Congress gave 53 waivers to HAL, however, the Modi-government gave contracts worth Rs 1 lakh crore.
Sitharaman added that either the Congress party or the former French President was misleading the country on the Rafale fighter jet deal.
Sitharama said, "Rahul Gandhi on 20 July in the Parliament said, he had asked the French President about the secrecy pact but he denied its existence and `he (also told me that he has no issues in making the cost public'." (ANI)