The Congress on Thursday demanded Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s resignation for allegedly “misleading” the people on the Rafale deal and said the government’s arguments have been “demolished” by the statement of a former chief of the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari cited the remarks of former HAL chief T Suvarna Raju to attack Sitharaman over the issue of HAL’s capability to build the Rafale aircraft.
Tewari hit out at Sitharaman for alleging that the UPA did not extend support to HAL when the state-run company was engaged in talks with French firm Dassault Aviation for the manufacturer of Rafale jets in India under the offset agreement. He said the former HAL chief had made certain “extremely pertinent points” that “absolutely demolish” the entire case that the NDA government has been trying to build on the Rafale issue.
Tewari said that Raju had made it clear in his statement that HAL and Dassault had signed the mutual workshare contract and given it to the government. The first question that arises is that did the defence minister of India intentionally tried to mislead the people of India, the Congress leader said. “We demeand the resignation of the defence minister on the charge of misleading the people of India.
After the disclosure which has been made today by the former head of HAL, the defence minister has no moral authority or no moral right to continue even for a second,” he said. He also reiterated the Congress demand of a Joint Parliametary Committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale deal. The Congress spokesperson also cited that Raju had stated that HAL would have built Rafale jets, had the government closed the original contract for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).
Therefore, the government’s argument that because HAL and Dassault could not come to an agreement and so the 126 MMRCA contract had to be scrapped does not hold, he said. “What has happened today has really blown the defence minister’s assertion out of the water,” Tewari said. He also cited Raju’s remarks that HAL had built a 25-tonne Sukhoi-30, a fourth-generation fighter jet that forms the mainstay of the Air Force, from raw material stage, and maintained the Mirage-2000 aircraft, manufactured by Rafale maker Dassault Aviation, to highlight the public sector undertaking’s capability.
“The nailer is that he (ex-HAL chief) says that if the 126 MMRCA contract would have gone through, India would have been self reliant in so far as the fighter aircraft platform is concerned,” Tewari said. “What happened to Make in India. Make in India seems to have gone out the window,” he said. Citing that the former HAL chief said that everything with Dassault had been sorted, Tewari slammed the government for stating otherwise.
“He (Raju) says everything had been sorted out. It completely and absolutely demolishes the web of lies and insinuations which this government has been trying to construct over the past six months,” Tewari said. He also demanded that the government should make all the files related to the issue public as demanded by the HAL chief.
In 2016, the Modi government signed a government-to-government deal with France for purchase of 36 Rafale jets at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore. The Congress has been alleging irregularities in the deal, saying the UPA had finalised the price of each aircraft at Rs 526 crore while the NDA was buying the same jet at Rs 1,670 crore. The government has been maintaining the cost of the Rafale aircraft was nine per cent less than what was negotiated during the UPA regime.
Last week, Sitharaman said negotiations for 126 Rafale jets under the UPA government fell through as the government did not support HAL to which the Congress alleged that the NDA completely kept away the state-run company from the project. “Dassault and HAL could not go together. The agreement did not happen during UPA, so is not it obvious that the interests of HAL could have really been taken care of,” Sitharaman had said. The Congress has demanded answers from the government on why HAL was not involved in the new deal.