Launching a fresh attack over the Rafale issue, the Congress on Sunday alleged that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s remarks about “corporate warfare” proved that the Modi government had given preference to corporate interests over national interest.
Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi, during a press conference here, said Sitharaman’s recent statement has “conclusively proved that this is a government of the suited-booted, for the suited-booted and by the suited-booted”.
Accusing the opposition of spreading misinformation on the Rafale deal, Sitharaman had Saturday wondered whether parties were becoming pawns in corporate rivalry and whether the procurement of 36 fighter jets was being “sabotaged”.
During her address at an event, Sitharaman had 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.
Corporate interests over national interest has been the Modi government’s “mantra”, Chaturvedi alleged.
The defence minister’s recent statement regarding the “Rafale scam” is as “fallacious” as her Parliament reply, she said.
“By bringing this argument about ‘corporate warfare’, the Modi government’s ‘defenceless’ defence minister seals and stamps the Congress party’s charge that the Rs 30,000 crore offset contract and Rs 1 lakh crore life cycle cost contract’ in the Rafale deal was given to his crony friend’s company which had zero experience and was brazen ‘cronyism’ at its best,” Chaturvedi alleged.
In the process, 75-year-old public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) lost out to a company that was started just 12 days prior to the deal announcement.
Chaturvedi said the Congress wants answers from the defence minister as to what was the compulsion to “snatch” the Rafale contract from HAL, even though a work share agreement worth approximately Rs 36,000 crore was already signed on March 13, 2014.
The Modi government needs to explain why it cancelled the UPA deal of 108 aircraft and announced a fresh RFP for 110 MMRCA aircraft on July 6, 2018, after four years of assuming office, Chaturvedi said.
The government has to reply as to why it rejected the Air Force’s need and demand for 126 fighter aircraft and decide to buy only 36 jets, she said.
The Congress leader also alleged that Sitharaman claimed HAL did not have the capability to produce 108 aircraft in India and asked whose corporate interests was she defending.
Chaturvedi also slammed Sitharaman for her reply in Parliament on the Rafale deal, alleging that the defence minister said she cannot divulge the offset partners in the deal, but in October, 2017, the French defence minister met Sitharaman and went to Nagpur to attend stone-laying of Dassault-Reliance JV with her Cabinet colleagues and Maharashtra CM.
“Why did she lie to the Parliament? What brief is she holding and to guard which ‘corporate entity’? Chaturvedi asked.
While we all know that Reliance Defence was incorporated 12 days prior to the deal, what is interesting is that Reliance Aerostructure Limited was incorporated 14 days after the announcement of purchase of deal and the licence for the same was granted by Ministry of Commerce helmed by Sitharaman, she said.
The Congress has been alleging corruption in the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft with Rahul Gandhi repeatedly targeting Prime Minister Modi over the issue.
The BJP, as well as Ambani, have rejected all the charges. The NDA government has stated that the deal signed by it was honest and cost less than what was decided during the UPA dispensation.