New Delhi, Jan 19 (IANS) Asserting that Rafale fighter jet is integral to the country’s strategic interests, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday slammed attempts to “sabotage” and “stop the deal” for acquiring 36 fighter aircraft in a ready-to-fly condition.
In her special address on “India’s Strategic Interest in the Context of Rafale Deal”, organised by Foundation for Public Awareness and Policy”, the Defence Minister accused the opposition parties, particularly the Congress, for “confusing” and “misinforming” the people on the issue of pricing of the aircraft.
Sitharaman said the opposition is comparing the then basic price of the Rafale jet with that of today, without factoring the escalation in the cost in the last one decade.
Flaying the Congress for raking up the issue of price, Sitharaman said in the 10 years that it was in power, it did not finalise the deal and not one aircraft was purchased while the Indian Air Force was in dire need of the fourth generation fighter jets which India’s neighbours were acquiring.
Assailing the Congress for its failure in addressing the “urgent” requirements of the Air Force, the Defence Minister described it as a “disservice” to the nation.
Sitharaman also questioned the sincerity of the UPA government in acquiring the fighter jets, saying that at no stage a provision was made in the budget for purchasing these aircraft.
She said that the Narendra Modi government started the process in 2016 and in 14 months completed it and in September this year, the country will have its first Rafale jet.
What is going on is an “international corporate war”, the Defence Minister said, adding: “None of us should fall prey to international corporate war by telling the people partial truths and half-truths.”
Mocking at the Congress for raising questions or suspicion on the deal, the Defence Minister said it is rooted in the past experience on “cutting corners” in the deals by those who were no associated with its negotiations.
Asserting that the deal was hammered by the senior Air Force officers and there was no middle man, Sitharaman said: “We did not have any middle man in the corridor of South Block (housing the Defence Ministry).”
On the offset money component of the deal, the Defence Minister clarified that under the agreement, the Dassault is mandated to invest 50 per cent of the deal money in India and it needs not necessarily be for Rafale aircraft. “It can be for any thing … even for mixers and grinders.”
Former Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Shirish Deo said the country’s defence forces have to be prepared to meet any exigency and that the country cannot afford a repeat of 1962 war with China.
“We need to be strong and fast, otherwise it will be catastrophic,” Air Marshal Deo said asserting that “Rafale will change the way we fight, the way Navy fights and the way Army fights”.
Taking exception to people questioning the statement of the Air chief defending Rafale, Air Marshal Deo said: “It hurts when Air chief is doubted.”