‘Deals in defence different from defence-dealing’: Nirmala Sitharaman slams Congress’ Rafale protest in Lok Sabha

Sitharaman said Cong is shedding crocodile tears over HAL not getting deal and asked why it didn’t settle issues in their tenure.

New Delhi: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday tore into Congress during a discussion on Rafale deal in Lok Sabha, asking why UPA government did not add a single fighter aircraft during its 10 years rule.

The Atal Bihari Vajpayee govt started the motion to acquire the 126 aircraft in 2001 after Kargil war…In 2006, the then UPA government issued SQR (Services Qualitative Requirements) for acquiring the aircraft but the issue reached a deadlock by 2014, Sitharaman said.

Sitharaman reminded the opposition members while India added no fighter aircraft, its hostile neighbours kept increasing their air power.

‘ Congress is shedding crocodile tears’

“China added 400 aircraft between 2004 and 2015. Pakistan doubled their total number of aircraft. India had 42 squadrons in 2002, 36 squadrons in 2007 and 32 squadrons in 2014. Congress is shedding crocodile tears now that we, having come to power, have recognised the sense of urgency. Congress says we have reduced deal for 128 aircraft to deal for 36 but this is misleading the country. Even UPA was buying 18 jets in flyaway condition. We have, in fact, increased it from one squadron to two squadrons for a total of 36 jets in flyaway condition. Emergency purchases are always two squadrons. Also, Congress says price escalated. Will they not take into account time, exchange rate and difference between a basic jet and a fighter jet?”

Sitharaman said that the Congress is questioning the Rafale deal without looking at the needs of national security and those of the Indian Air Force. “The environment around India is very volatile. India would want peace in our neighbourhood but it cannot be at the cost of operational readiness of our armed forces. Timely getting of equipment should be a priority for any government,” she said in Lok Sabha.

Sitharaman said even in the old agreement, the first Rafale batch was to be delivered after three years of signing the agreement while the Modi government in view of the urgency went for inter-governmental deal.

Sitharaman also claimed that the previous defence minister had an elaborate timeline to make payment for the aircraft but the ex-defence minister told the press that the government has no money. This, she said, proves that the Congress government had no intention to purchase the aircraft.

‘We don’t do deals in defence’

“There is a difference in defence deals and deals in defence. We don’t do deals in defence,” she quipped in an apparent reference to AgustaWestland Chopper scam.

Refuting allegations that the NDA government neglected HAL, she said that the previous governments never signed any agreement with HAL either.

Accusing Congress governments of years of filling its coffers, Sitharaman said that national security was often made to play second fiddle to the lure of money. She further said that Congress – in UPA – did not want to sign key defence deals which were not profitable for the party. When charged by Congress over why Rafale deal was awarded to a particular Indian company, Sitharaman hit back furiously. “There is an RV for every AA you mention. Then there’s Q and let me remind you that we did not grow on the laps of Q,” she said, referring to Robert Vadra, Anil Ambani and Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi.