Rafale deal row: Nirmala Sitharaman asks whether Opposition is being used as pawn in corporate rivalry

New Delhi: Accusing the Opposition of spreading misinformation in the Rafale deal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday wondered whether these parties were becoming pawns in corporate rivalry and whether the procurement of 36 fighter jets was being "sabotaged".

During her address at an event in New Delhi, Sitharaman said ever since the Modi government assumed office, there has been a conscious effort to keep middlemen at bay from the corridors of the defence ministry.

"I want every strand of this debate to be explained, as much as it can be, without any of us playing into the hands of international corporate warfare. None of us should play party to any corporate warfare."

File image of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. PTI

File image of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. PTI

"We cannot become pawns in the hands of the corporate giants to constantly bully the government, to constantly throw misinformation at the public, to misinform the public," she said.

Her attack on the Opposition parties comes a day after a newspaper report claimed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to buy 36 Rafale jets, instead of 126 as negotiated by the previous UPA government, was taken while bypassing mandated procedures, pushing the price of each aircraft by 41.42 percent.

The Congress has launched a fresh salvo at the government on the Rafale deal citing this report.

Sitharaman was addressing a seminar on 'India's Strategic Interest in Context of the Rafale Deal'. She accused the Opposition of doing a "disservice" to the nation by misinforming the public on the fighter jet deal.

"You (Opposition) are misinforming the public and doing disservice to the country if you are becoming pawns in corporate rivalry. Is India's interest at the top of your agenda or are you becoming a partner to some kind of corporate rivalry," she asked.

"Is your intention to sabotage this procurement? If the intention is to stop the purchase, (then) that's disservice to the nation," she said.

Responding to a question that before the announcement in 2015 to procure 36 jets in an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) was made, Dassault CEO Eric Trappier had stated negotiations for the procurement of 126 jet were on and then suddenly the deal was called off, Sitharaman said, "Dassault (Aviation) chief said negotiations were on. That's all true. Such things go on in a bureaucratic process."

She added that the Expression of Interest was signed since there was a deadlock in the negotiations that lasted for over a decade.

"After that the earlier RFI (Request for Proposal for 126 aircraft) was cancelled and IGA (Intergovernmental Agreement) was signed," she said.

Asked why the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was not present when Modi announced it, she said there was "nothing illegal" in it.

"The (then) Defence Minister signed the deal. To say there was a corruption since the defence minister was not there during the Expression of Interest is wrong," she said.

The negotiations took 14 months before the two sides signed the agreement, she said.

Sitharaman also hit out at the opposition for calling Chief of Air Force BS Dhanoa a liar for his statement that Rafale was a good aircraft.

"He didn't say he loves PM Modi or he likes BJP. He just said it is a damn good aircraft, that's his business to say," she said.

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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2019 23:46:13 IST

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