Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday said that her predecessor under the UPA government wrote on the file containing an agreement related to the Rafale fighter jet deal: “something not probably alright, will you please come back to me.” Without naming the Defence minister under the previous government, she said the note was written before the government went out of power in 2014.
A K Antony held the post until May 26, 2014. “An agreement on which, before going out of power, the then Raksha Mantri has written in the file: ‘Something is not probably alright. Will you please come back to me’,” Sitharaman told the media during her visit to IIM- Ahmedabad for the Red Brick Summit on Monday.
Her address at the IIM summit was not open to the media. Without naming Antony, Sitharaman said, “Will you ask the person (Defence minister under UPA), as to why before concluding the agreement, he wrote that… rather than ask us (about details of the deal)?”
Pointing out that agreements between Dassault Aviation and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) did not fructify during the UPA regime, she said some help from the then Defence minister and the Ministry could have helped finalise the deal for HAL, which makes Sukhoi fighter jets at Nasik, civilian and military Dornier aircraft in Uttar Pradesh, and helicopters in Bengaluru for the Indian Air Force.
She said, “The negotiations between Dassault Aviation and HAL did not reach a conclusion during their (UPA) regime. The question should be asked to them why it did not come through… If the then Raksha Mantri and the MoD (Ministry of Defence) had helped HAL from their respective sides, the deal could perhaps have been concluded.”
The minister said the IAF has been a “captive consumer” of HAL products.
Stating that the first of the Rafale aircraft will be delivered by September 2019, Sitharaman said that under the UPA, 18 aircraft were to be obtained in fly-away condition and the remaining to be produced over a period of time. The NDA government, she said, has doubled the number. “In place of 18, we are getting 36 aircraft in fly-away condition. For the rest, we have already issued an RFI [request for information] and seven OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have approached us,” she said. Sitharaman said production of the remaining planes will take “the RFI route.”
Asked whether the Rafale controversy has dented the Modi government’s image, she said, “It does not tarnish the government’s image. But I am afraid that the campaign the Congress party is doing with half-truths and baseless arguments, they are almost sabotaging the Indian armed forces’ operational readiness. Strangely, it is also worrying that most of this is getting support from our not-so-friendly neighbour.”