New Delhi: Offering yet again an explanation on the controversial Rafale deal, among other issues, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addressed the media at the Indian Women’s Press Corps here on Tuesday. Hitting back at the Congress, which has alleged that the Centre has tarnished the image of public-sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) both nationally and internationally and that it did not back the latter, Sitharaman said, “The deal didn’t happen during UPA. What also didn’t happen during the UPA was that between HAL and Dassault, they couldn’t agree on production terms. So HAL and Rafale couldn’t go together. Doesn’t that very clearly say who didn’t go with the HAL, under which government did that happen?” Sitharaman was also responding to Congress leader and former Defence minister AK Antony’s rebuttal that he did not intervene back in 2013, thus putting “the final nail in the coffin”.
While the Congress has been demanding answers from the Centre on why HAL was not involved in the new deal, Sitharaman has maintained the UPA deal collapsed as HAL did not have the capability to produce 108 aircraft in India. “Even during negotiation with HAL, Dassault felt that the cost with which the HAL will produce will be far higher than the aircraft produced in France. That was the reality,” she had said to PTI in an interview. The defence minister had said the then government could have come forward and pumped in resources into HAL, but they did not. She had asked “why could not the then defence minister say that we will pump in all the required resources into HAL? He could have done it. That was not done.” (Also read: Minister Hiding Facts on Rafale, Says Congress)
On cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Sidhu going to Pakistan for Imran Khan’s swearing-in and even hugging the neighbouring country’s Army chief, Sitharaman seemed to agree with the popular sentiment. She said, “It certainly has an impact on the soldiers and the people in the Ministry. The public response has also been similar that it (the action) demoralises. If it demoralises people, I wished Sidhu would have avoided it. I’m not talking about going, but that single gesture of hugging the chief of Pakistan Army.”
Moving on, Sitharaman talked about the imminent deal with Russia for S-400 missile. She said, “The negotiation with Russia on the S-400 have reached almost the final stage, we’ll have to see it if it’s signed before the Russian President’s visit. But the negotiations are almost complete.”