Mounting a scathing attack on the Congress over its Rafale “campaign… built on falsehoods” to “mislead the nation”, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told Parliament Friday that the Bofors scandal brought down the Congress while the Rafale “decision in national interest” would return the Modi government to power.
In a “point-by-point” rebuttal to Opposition allegations of irregularities in the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft from France, Sitharaman, speaking in Lok Sabha for two hours, said the Ministry of Defence “has been functioning without dalals (middlemen) during five years of Modi”.
Hitting back at Congress president Rahul Gandhi who had specifically targeted the Prime Minister and her over the Rafale deal, she said the agreement signed by her government was in every manner better than the “non-deal” of the UPA government which ended in a deadlock in 2014.
“Bofors was a scam, Rafale is not a scam… Bofors brought them down. They lost an election… Rafale will bring us back. Rafale will bring Modi back. Rafale will bring Modi back to have a new India. Rafale will bring Modi back to build a transforming India. Rafale will bring back Modi to remove the corruption which is stinking all around the Congress party”.
Amid the din and disruptions by Congress members, Sitharaman told the House that “facts are frightening the Congress party”.
“Somewhere there is a desperation that how come Modi government has managed full five years without any corruption. Throw something at them, spit and run, accuse them, become unethical,” she said.
“I allege, as I elaborate” that the UPA government “did not intend buying” the Rafale fighters “till something else was done”, she said, adding that for Congress “their treasury security is more important” than national security.
She said the deal to procure 126 fighters was stalled during UPA II after Dassault had been selected as the lowest bidder in 2011. Under that proposal, India was to buy 18 Rafale in fly-away condition and another 108 were to be manufactured in India under technology transfer from Dassault to HAL.
According to Sitharaman, UPA Defence Minister A K Antony told reporters in February 2014 “where is the money?” to buy the aircraft. She said the schedule of payment is decided before a deal is signed, so “what money, which money” was Antony referring to. She then accused the Congress of corruption, saying “probably the deal money”. The deal “didn’t suit” the Congress which is why it got stuck, she said.
“There is a difference between defence dealings and dealings in defence,” she said, adding the UPA went out “without even getting” the 18 jets in fly-away condition and “without an agreement on a deal”.
The decision to buy 36 aircraft, she said, is standard “whenever there is an emergency purchase which has to be made” on the advice of the IAF. “They are always for two squadrons,” she said, adding that the government has also issued a new Request for Proposal for the remaining aircraft.
“You are misleading the country by saying the NDA government reduced 126 Rafale jets to 36. Congress was supposed to buy 18 in fly-away condition, the NDA raised that to 36,” she said.
“I want to put before you that the terms that we have got under the IGA (Inter Government Agreement) is far better on every count, price, delivery, maintenance, industrial support, additional warranty, other than of course weapon package and advanced training, which I am not disclosing here.” she said.
She also accused the Congress of shedding “crocodile tears” for HAL because the party did nothing to improve the condition of the PSU when it was in power. The Modi government, on the other hand, had given HAL contracts worth Rs 1 lakh crore and enhanced its capacity too, she said.