NEW DELHI: A combative Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday gave a point-by-point rebuttal to Congress allegations on the Rafale deal and asserted it will help Prime Minister Narendra Modi retain power, unlike the Bofors gun scam that brought down the then Rajiv Gandhi government.
Hurling the khandan (dynasty) barb at Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Sitharaman sought to contrast it with her and Modi’s poor rather modest background while wrapping up the Rafale debate in the Lok Sabha, adding the deal was done in the interest of national security.
The first jet would arrive in September, while all 36 would be in by 2022. Rahul later claimed Sitharaman had not responded to any of his posers. The minister, who was repeatedly disrupted by Congress members, informed the House that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) was auditing the Rafale deal, and her ministry would soon submit replies to queries raised by it.
Alleging that the UPA government did not go ahead with the Rafale deal because kickbacks weren’t given, Sitharaman said that defence deals during the NDA government did not have middlemen. “Defence Ministry has run without dalals (middlemen) under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi. Bofors was a scam. But Rafale is a deal done in the national interest. Bofors (scam) had brought down the Congress government. But the Rafale deal would help bring Modi to stay in power,” remarked Sitharaman.
Rahul, during his intervention, sought full disclosure on pricing and the offset contract to the Anil Ambani-led firm. Seeking specific replies from the minister, he claimed that price wasn’t part of the secrecy clause. He also wanted to know who put the Ambani firm on the offset list.
Referring to the acerbic attack on her and Modi’s integrity, Sitharaman said the PM came from a poor background, while she grew up in a middle-class family. “I don’t have a khandan to boast of. I’ve my honour intact. The PM has his honour intact,” the defence minister stressed.
She also gave it back to Rahul for his offset barb, saying for every “AA (Anil Ambani), there are a Q and RV” - alluding to Quattrocchi (Bofors) and Robert Vadra (shady deals).
18 versus 36 jets
While the UPA deal was for 18 Rafales in a flyaway condition, the NDA bought double the number. “You didn’t conclude the deal, because it didn’t suit you. The deal didn’t get you money,” Sitharaman told the Congress president
Cong will probe Rafale if voted to power: Rahul
A probe into the Rafale deal would be launched if the Congress came back to power in the national elections this year, Rahul Gandhi said as his party slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi for compromising national security.
“A criminal investigation would be launched into the Rafale jet deal and the accused would be punished,” Rahul said. “In addition to corruption, the PM should be investigated for weakening national security by giving the Rafale contract to his friend and international debt master Anil Ambani.”
Demanding the government must answer whether the negotiating team or the defence ministry objected to any aspect of the new deal, Rahul said the Prime Minister must come clean on “who decided to raise the price of Rafale aircraft from Rs 526 crore to Rs 1,600 crore — the Air Force, the Defence Ministry or the PM”?
Noting that “the Air Force required 126 fighter aircraft”, the Congress president asked as to “who reduced the number of planes to 36 and who decided to give the contract to Anil Ambani”?
Congress veterans, including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge and Randeep Surjewala, claimed that the PM overruled objections raised and recorded by the negotiations team and hiked the benchmark price from 5.2 billion euros to 8.2 billion euros, thereby incurring a loss to the exchequer.
Citing a report, they alleged that the Modi government paid a higher price for the Rafale jets as compared to what Qatar and Egypt paid for the aircraft and that it ignored the 20 per cent discount offered by the second shortlisted manufacturer, Eurofighter.
“Objections on the file read, ‘As per the prices reflected in Dassault’s financial results, it has sold Rafale at a cheaper rate to Qatar and Egypt as compared to India.’ With the looming threat of China and Pakistan, does it not compromise India’s national security?” Surjewala questioned.