Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre on Thursday termed the opposition’s criticism of the Rafale deal as an “election propaganda” and said the issue was “a political controversy created to mislead the nation”.
Defending the choice of Reliance Defence as an offset partner of Rafale, as against Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the minister said HAL was “preoccupied with orders and has more than what they wanted.”
Bhamre was speaking in Lonavala on the sidelines of the inaugural session of Engineers’ Conclave on Defence Manufacturing in India, organised by Larsen & Toubro and the Indian National Academy of Engineers.
When asked about the controversy over the deal for the multirole fighter jet Rafale, Bhamre said, “The controversy over Rafale is a political controversy. All the parties have gone into the election mode and they need something to make an issue out of. It is an election propaganda. I have my sympathy for those who are trying to do this. The controversy has been created to mislead the nation. They cannot do that. People have faith in the Modi government. We have made an inter-government agreement. All the procedures have been followed and there has been transparency. When the Prime Minister visited France in 2015, there was a joint statement. We have got 36 aircraft in fly-away condition on better terms than the previous regime in price, delivery schedule, maintenance and many other things.”
Answering a question on the opposition’s criticism about the choice of Reliance Group as the offset partner, Bhamre said, “HAL currently has work order of at least Rs one lakh crore. So, HAL is not deprived of orders. That is a wrong propaganda. HAL is preoccupied and they have much more than what they wanted.”
He added, “If we have to effectively defend all our frontiers, we need 42 fighter aircraft squadron, today, we have got only 33. Of these 33, 11 are from the Mig series, which are going to retire in the years to come. So, it is an operational criticality that we have to go ahead with this programme. Thus, in case of Rafale, it was a government-to-government agreement, in which we are going to get 36 aircraft in fly-away condition. It is going to be a very potent fighter, considering what our adversaries have, and there are 13 India-specific additions. At the same time, indigenously made Tejas, the multirole fighter jet, is also going to be added to the air defence. So, in the years to come, with both Rafale and Tejas, we will achieve the magic number of 42 fighter squadrons. In 2019, we will start getting the Rafale and by 2022, the last one of the 36 will be delivered. At the same time, production of Tejas is also on by the HAL. Before 2014, their capacity was only eight per year, which has been augmented to 24 per year. We will meet the deadline”.
When asked about India and Russia signing the S-400 Air Defence System deal during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to India and the US’ stand on such deals, Bhamre said, “It is a consumer’s choice to go for the right product for the right cost at the time of choosing. It is a choice, which has nothing to do with foreign policy.”