Even before the first of the 36 Rafale jets land in India to become part of the Indian Air Force's fighter squad, the politics surrounding the deal is getting murkier by the day. On Tuesday, it was the turn of the former defence minister and senior Congress leader AK Antony to accuse Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of suppressing facts on the Rafale deal. In a press conference held in Delhi, Antony alleged that the BJP has compromised national security and they deserve no sympathy.
Antony asked as to why the government was shying away from setting up a joint parliamentary committee to probe the case. He also accused the government of being "guilty" of "gravely compromising" national security in the fighter jet deal. He rejected as "completely false" the charges of Sitharaman that an unprecedented intervention by him in 2013 put the "final nail in the coffin" when the cost negotiation committee was giving final touches to the deal.
The former defence minister accused Sitharaman of trying to tarnish the image of public-sector firm Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) both nationally and internationally by questioning its credibility. He also asked if the price of the Rafale fighter jets were cheaper than that negotiated by the UPA and why it did not buy 126 aircraft instead of 36 from the French manufacturer.
"The Congress party demands that the Modi government publish the price of the Congress-UPA's deal of 126 aircraft and the price of its 36 Rafale deals, including per aircraft price of the same to clear the doubts of the people of India. Let the nation decide who is correct. "Since there is a growing perception that the Modi government's Rafale purchase deal has more skeletons in its closet, let there be Joint Parliamentary Probe (JPC) to bring the truth out in the open," he told reporters.
"Recently, the law minister claimed that in the new agreement, aircraft is 9 percent cheaper than the UPA deal. The finance minister told it is 20 percent cheaper, then an IAF officer told that it is 40 percent cheaper. Why did they not buy more than 126 if it was cheaper?" Antony asked.
"In 2000, the Indian Air Force (IAF) told the then NDA government that they require at least 126 fighter aircraft. When Modi made the announcement in 2015, the DAC's approved proposal for acquiring 126 Rafale jets was still alive. We would like to know when the DAC cleared the proposal for 126 aircraft, and who authorised Modi to reduce the number to 36," the senior Congress leader asked.
"In the present context, the threat perception has increased substantially and the IAF needs more than 126 fighters at the earliest. However, instead of catering to the need, the Modi government seriously jeopardised national security and air combat preparedness by unilaterally ordering only 36 Rafale jets," Antony told the media.
Only the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) can decide on the number of aircraft and weaponry required, Antony said and added that Modi's announcement in 2015 to procure only 36 jets was a "grave violation" of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP).
"After signing the purchase agreement of 36 Rafale aircraft in April 2015, Modi government cancelled the 126 Rafale aircraft contract only on 24 June 2015. Isn’t this again, a violation of the DPP?" Antony asked.
He then reiterated his party's demand for disclosing the price of the jets negotiated by the previous UPA government and the present NDA regime.
"During UPA rule, HAL was a profit-making company but under the Modi government, for the first time in history, HAL has taken approximately Rs 1,000 crore loan from various banks," the former defence minister alleged. "If the UPA deal wasn't cancelled, HAL would've acquired state-of-the-art technology through a transfer of technology. They would've gained experience to manufacture fighter aircraft. India lost this opportunity," Antony said.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Sep 18, 2018 21:10:57 IST