IF voted to power, the Congress will not scrap the Rafale fighter jet deal with France, and rather buy more by making it a better deal, said senior party leader P Chidambaram. He said the choice of offset partner was “indeed an issue”, but the “most critical issue” was the number of aircraft and the price and the delivery schedule.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Chidambaram said, “Rafale aircraft would be bought. This deal can undergo changes and modifications to make it a better deal.”
He also said he was not in favour of the matter to be taken to courts. “It is not a matter which is amenable to judicial resolution,” he said. He favoured a Parliamentary investigation, based on which different agencies can act given their mandate.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been relentless in his attack of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP government stridently over the Rafale deal, and specifically the offset contract given to Anil Ambani’s Reliance group.
To a question if the Congress would scrap the deal or order an investigation if voted to power, the former finance and home minister said, “We are the ones who chose the Rafale aircraft. Why should we scrap the Rafale aircraft? Rafale is a good aircraft. We want that aircraft. In fact, if the Congress comes to power, it will explore how you can buy 126 Rafale aircraft, ask for quicker delivery, and bolster the Air Force. But we will certainly look into pricing, we will certainly look into the delivery schedule, we will look into the India specific enhancements to check whether the configuration is the same as we agreed upon. All those will be looked into. But the Rafale aircraft deal will not be scrapped.”
Asked whether the Congress would approach the court in the light of fresh revelations, Chidambaram said, “It doesn’t make sense to me. I have never believed that court is the forum to resolve these issues.” He said a Parliamentary committee should look into the matter and then based on its report, different agencies would have to act according to their mandate. “That is the practice world over,” he said.
“This penchant of approaching court is something which I have never believed, never accepted. These are not matters that are amenable to judicial resolution…These are matters which are world over under the jurisdiction of the Parliament. Suppose a similar thing had happened in the US. The US House of Representatives, the US Senate would have immediately started an investigation. In the British House of Commons, the Parliamentary committee concerned with it would have started an investigation. Unfortunately, we have a Parliament, we have Parliamentary committees, but none of them have suo motu powers or subpoena powers or the power to start an investigation. Unless the government refers it to the committee, the committees are helpless,” he said.
Chidambaram said the Congress had asked sharp, pointed questions to the government answers were not forthcoming.
“The Air Force wants at least seven squadrons, 126 aircraft….actually they want nine. There was an agreement for 126 aircraft to be manufactured in France and India and delivered. You reduced it to 36. Why? If the price was cheaper, you should have actually ordered an 8th squadron and a 9th squadron. If the price is cheaper, why are you reducing it to two squadrons. There is no answer,” he said.
There was no answer from the government on the latest revelations either. “Instead of that we get abuse, you are a dynast. You are a liar. Is that an answer to questions,” Chidambaram said.
Asked whether the choice of offset partner is a critical issue, he said, “That is one of the issues.”
“The most critical issue is the number of aircraft and the price and the delivery schedule. The choice of offset partner is indeed an issue. In fact, from my point of view, the correct way to frame the question is why was HAL cut out? As it is claimed, there are going to be 100 offset partners. We have not heard any name so far. If there are going to be 100 offset partners, are you saying that HAL does not qualify to be even one among the 100 in India. Are there 100 companies which are superior to HAL in manufacturing aircraft parts,” he asked.