Updated: January 4, 2019 7:05:54 pm
Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday tore into Rahul Gandhi-led Congress over the Rafale deal, alleging the party never intended to purchase the fighter jets “till something else was done”. “You stopped the deal, forgetting the Air Force was suffering. The deal didn’t get you money,” she asserted.
“I charge and allege that they did not even wish to buy the aircraft. They kept the motions going. Their treasury’s security was important,” Sitharaman added.
The minister was delivering a point-by-point rebuttal on the allegations made by the grand old party in the Lok Sabha and also rubbished speculations that the fighter aircraft were “available off the shelf”. “The assumption that these fighters are available off the shelf is really mistaken. None of this is available of the shelf,” she said.
Taking a swipe at the Congress party over its allegation that the government did favour to Anil Ambani by making his company the offset partner of the Rafale deal, the defence minister reminded it of Bofors scam and said, “For every ‘AA (Anil Ambani)’ there is a ‘Q (Quattrocchi)’ and ‘RV (Robert Vadra)’,” she said.
Sitharaman also accused the Congress of shedding “crocodile tears for HAL”. “Congress is shedding crocodile tears over HAL not getting the deal, why didn’t it settle the issue during its tenure?” she asked.
Hitting out at Rahul Gandhi who had earlier accused the Centre of depriving Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) of the deal by passing it on to the French manufacturer, the BJP leader said, “I repeat there is HAL in Amethi, has the honourable MP gone there to ask them their concerns? If you really care about HAL, you would try to make things better. You didn’t do any of that.”
Sitharaman also accused the party of misleading the country “by saying the NDA government had reduced the 126 jets to 36”. “Congress was supposed to buy 18 aircraft, the NDA had raised it to 36,” she claimed.
Emphasising the need to ensure national security, she said, “There is a difference between defence deal and deal in defence. We deal with national security as a priority.” “The timeline for the payment and quantum are all well prepared and kept in the defence ministry,” she added.
Sitharaman also referred to the recent Supreme Court judgment on the deal to make it clear that the government did not mislead the public or the top court. Citing the judgment, she said, “The top court’s Rafale judgement states: After hearing the matter in detail, we find no reason for intervention on the issue of the purchase of the 36 aircrafts. The perception of individuals cannot be on the basis of an inquiry.”
The minister also assured that the first aircraft will be delivered in three years from 2016 and the last jet will be delivered by 2022.
Getting a chance to speak, the Congress chief asked the defence minister tell the House who decided on giving the offset contract to Anil Ambani firm. “Price is not part of the secrecy pact. My question is Anil Ambani was brought in for the contract. Who was the one to decide on Anil Ambani?” said Gandhi.
Rejecting claims of giving favour to Anil Ambani, Sitharaman responded by saying the government had inherited the offset policy from UPA and it had no role in choosing the offset partner for the Rafale deal.
She also lashed out at the Congress president for calling Narendra Modi a thief and said the prime minister’s honour is intact. “I don’t have a ‘khandan’ to boast on. PM also comes from a poor background. He has come here from hard work. I have my honour intact. PM has his honour intact. We have all come from normal backgrounds,” said the minister.
Jaitley, Shah congratulate Sitharaman for ‘demolishing Cong’s lies’
As the debate ended, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley congratulated Sitharaman for her fiery response to Congress allegations. “Well done! Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman ji, for an outstanding performance. You demolished the fake campaign. We are all proud of your performance,” tweeted Jaitley.
Well done! Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman ji, for an outstanding performance. You demolished the fake campaign. We are all proud of your performance. @nsitharaman
— Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) January 4, 2019
BJP chief Amit Shah also congratulated Sitharaman for her replies on Rafale allegations. ” A LIE goes only so far and no further. Defence Minister Smt @nsitharaman ji has completely demolished Congress party’s lies and misinformation campaign on Rafale with her excellent speech loaded with facts. I congratulate her for bringing the truth to the nation,” tweeted Shah.
A LIE goes only so far and no further.
Defence Minister Smt @nsitharaman ji has completely demolished Congress party’s lies and misinformation campaign on Rafale with her excellent speech loaded with facts.
I congratulate her for bringing the truth to the nation.
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) January 4, 2019
Defence minister ‘ran away’ from my questions on Rafale: Rahul
However, unsatisfied with the defence minister’s response to the charges on Rafale deal, Gandhi during a press briefing said that rather than answering the questions raised during the debate, Sitharaman was doing drama. “Many questions were raised. No questions were answered. She (Def Min) didn’t take Anil Ambani’s name for 2 hrs. I asked if the objection was raised by Air Force when PM did bypass surgery? Instead of answering this question, she started a drama,” said Gandhi.
Gandhi said he put two questions to the minister towards the end of the debate and asked her to reply in yes or no. “I asked that after a long negotiation process, those people who participated in that negotiations — Air Force chief, defence minister, secretaries, Air Force officials — when the prime minister did a ‘bypass surgery’… did the Air Force people object, yes or know,” Gandhi said.
“And you saw that instead of answering this, the defence minister started doing drama that ‘I have been insulted, I was called a liar’,” he said.
Addressing the country’s youth, Gandhi said the minister was attempting to mislead them. It was a straight question and without answering that she “ran away”, the Congress chief said.
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