Amid the ongoing war of words on the Rafale deal, former defence minister and senior Congress leader AK Antony fired fresh salvos at the Modi regime by stating that the Modi government gravely compromised India's national security by ordering only 36 aircraft against the requirement of 126. Anthony questioned the Modi government on its claim that the aircraft was bought at a price lower than the one negotiated by the Congress government. He wondered why the Modi government bought only 36 aircraft and not more if it was getting a cheaper deal.
Senior Congress leader A.K. Antony on Tuesday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “gravely compromising national security and defence preparedness” by reducing to 36 the number of Rafale fighter jets purchased from France.
“In 2000, the Indian Air Force (IAF) told the then NDA government that they require at least 126 fighter aircraft. With threats looming on both eastern and western borders, modern air power is very crucial.
“In the present context, the threat perception has increased substantially and the IAF needs more than 126 fighters at the earliest. However, instead of catering to the need, the Modi government seriously jeopardised national security and air combat preparedness by unilaterally ordering only 36 Rafale jets,” the former Defence Minister told the media here.
Only the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) can decide on the number of aircraft and weaponry required, Antony said and added that Modi’s announcement in 2015 to procure only 36 jets was a “grave violation” of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP).
“When Modi made the announcement in 2015, the DAC’s approved proposal for acquiring 126 Rafale jets was still alive. We would like to know when the DAC cleared the proposal for 126 aircraft, who authorised Modi to reduce the number to 36,” the senior Congress leader asked.
He also lambasted Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on her claim that state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) did not have the required capability to produce the jets in India.
“She has tarnished the image of HAL, which is the only company that can manufacture the fighter aircraft in India. We don’t know what her intentions were in ridiculing a public sector undertaking under her own Ministry,” said Antony.
He reiterated his party’s demand for disclosing the price of the jets negotiated by the previous UPA government and the present NDA regime as well as a Joint Parliamentary Probe (JPC) into the matter.
“Since there is a growing perception that the Modi government’s Rafale deal has more skeletons in its closet, let there be a JPC to bring out the truth,” the former Union Minister said.
Rebutting Congress’ charges against the Narendra Modi government, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman held the erstwhile UPA regime responsible for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) being overlooked for the jet deal.
“All these attributes that are being put to us about HAL…it’s not for us but the UPA to answer as to why the agreement between Dassault and HAL did not happen.
“The UPA government could have done anything to strengthen HAL’s offer, to make sure its terms were appealing enough for Dassault, they could have done everything to ensure the terms were appealing enough for Dassault to conclude the agreement,” Sitharaman said during a media interaction here.
“This entire issue of HAL not being chosen happened during their (UPA) time. So all these questions they are now directing at us should actually go to them. You have not taken care of HAL, you have not made the terms appealing enough for the HAL to successfully bid with Dassault,” she said.
She also countered Antony’s assertions of the Modi government compromising national security by reducing the number of jets to 36 from the 126 requisitioned by the Indian Air Force in 2000.
“He (Antony) has done the negotiations, so he knows about how they go. These are not over-the-counter purchases… Orders have to placed and then they have to be manufactured, thus there is a timeline.
“The government has responded to the issues raised by the Congress including about the price of the basic aircraft in Parliament. It was our duty to ensure that we get the best price. The price you (UPA) obtained for a basic aircraft when compared with the intergovernmental agreement that we have done, it is 9 per cent cheaper, and it is fact,” she added.
The Supreme Court will hear on October 10 a PIL petition seeking probe into the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from French company Dassault.
The bench of Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Navin Sinha and Justice K.M. Joseph adjourned the hearing of the matter on Tuesday as petitioner advocate M.L. Sharma had circulated a letter seeking adjournment till October 5 on the grounds that he was not well.
But as Sharma came to the court and sought its permission to file additional documents, Justice Gogoi wondered that while he had sought adjournment owing to his indifferent health, he was now seeking permission to file more documents.
Initially, the court fixed October 22 as the next date of hearing but as Sharma urged for an early date, Justice Gogoi said he could not have an adjournment and also the next date of his choice.
However, the court later advanced it to October 10.
The lawyer sought a stay on the fighter jet deal between India and France alleging discrepancies.
The Rafale deal is a defence agreement signed between India and France for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in a fly-away condition as part of the upgrading process of the Indian Air Force equipment. (IANS)