Congress didn't close Rafale deal because they didn't get money, Nirmala Sitharaman tells Lok Sabha
The first Rafale aircraft will be delivered in September 2019 and 36 aircraft will be delivered in the year 2022. The process of negotiation was finished in 14 months, the defence minister said.
Hitting back at the Congress on the Rafale fighter jet deal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday alleged that the party had stopped the deal when it was in power as it "didn't get the money" and ignored national security.
Replying to a debate on the Rafale issue in Lok Sabha, Sitharaman alleged that the Congress is only shedding crocodile tears on the HAL not getting the offset contract as it did nothing to scale up the capacity of the state-run firm.
"Bofors was a scam, but Rafale was a decision taken in national interest. Rafale will bring back Modi to build a new India and remove corruption," she said in a reply lasting over two-and-a-half hours in the Lok Sabha to a debate on the deal with French manufacturer Dassault.
The BJP-led NDA government gave Rs one lakh crore worth of contracts to HAL, she said.
Taking on 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. 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, adding that China and Pakistan are building a bigger fleet whereas the UPA government wanted only 18 flyaway fighter jets.
The delivery of first Rafale will happen in 2019, while the last aircraft of 36 jets will be delivered in 2022, the minister said.
She said the IAF always advises government to buy two squadrons, which is 36 aircraft instead of 18, in case of emergency purchases, the Minister said.
"We have had wars in northern and western frontiers. Timely purchase equipment should be the priority. We have to recognise the sense of urgency," the defence minister said.
Citing former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee's role in the Kargil War, Sitharaman said, "It's important for us to purchase ammunition to ensure internal security."
"Senior members of the Opposition don't want to hear my answers. It is very disheartening. This country needs to know that defence purchases are national security-related and very important, whether they are in power or we are," Sitharaman said.
"There is a difference between defence dealings and dealing in defence. We don't do defence dealings. We deal in defence with national security as a priority," she said.
Responding to senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, Sitharaman said, "I want to say to Kharge ji, who is member of Standing Committee that looked into various issues related to Defence production, in a report stated "Standing Committee is disappointed to know that even after 3 decades HAL hasn't been able to develop the required aircraft."
Earlier in the day, BJP MP Anurag Thakur in Lok Sabha said, "PM Modi answered on every issue in the 95-minute interview. What did Rahul Gandhi expect Ms Smita Prakash to ask? 'What you like to eat, how is your dog etc?' And later Rahul Gandhi attacking the woman journalist for it is extremely condemnable."
"Congress took more than 20 days to prepare for the debate. When the opposition brought forward a leader to lead the discussion, it was a confused and a corrupt leader, who is out on bail. He left after speaking 20 lies in 20 minutes," he said.
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge when the house met for the session said, "The affidavit submitted by the Centre before the Supreme Court is wrong. Centre misguided SC & public. This is the reason we are demanding a JPC."
(With PTI and IANS inputs)