New Delhi: Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh on Saturday defended the Rafale fighter aircraft deal and said no noise should be made if the French aerospace major Dassault Aviation did not find the state-run aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) “useful enough”. His statement comes at a time when the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are at loggerheads over the issue. Also Read - Rafale Corruption Charges 'Completely Baseless', Says BJP on Claims by French Publication
Addressing the Indian community at the Indian consulate in Dubai, he said that the decision about the partner in an inter-governmental agreement is not taken by the government but by the company that makes the equipment. “It’s the company that is making equipment that decides whom to give the offset. So the decision is that of Dassault and for various things they have selected a number of companies, Anil Ambani is one of them,” he said. (ALSO READ – Why Didn’t Govt Buy All 126 Aircraft NDA’s Rafale Negotiation Was Cheaper? Asks Chidambaram) Also Read - Rafale Deal: Dassault Paid 1 Million Euros to Indian Middleman As Gift, Claims French Report
Adding further, he said, “If I can say tongue-in-cheek, if Dassault didn’t find Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) useful enough, we shouldn’t make noise.” Also Read - Nitin Gadkari Releases BJP's Manifesto For Tamil Nadu, Promises 50 Lakh Jobs, Separate Agri Budget
Defending the government’s decision, Singh said that HAL was overburdened and has many things to do. “Dassault may have negotiated with them. It is said that 95 per cent was already negotiated with them, so what happened to the 5 per cent. Why did it fall through?,” he asked.
Singh added, “The basic price and the price at which it was negotiated for 126 aircraft by the UPA government and the basic price for a fly-away condition aircraft has a difference of 40 per cent cheaper by this government.”
He said the secrecy clause comes in where the equipment was concerned. “Avionics, radars and the type of weapon systems, the types of weapons delivery platforms, if you let it be known, the enemy would know what is to be done with them. That’s why it remains a secret,” Singh asserted. Criticising the Opposition for its role, he said, “Unfortunately, after some time the smoke will go away because there is actually no fire.”
Earlier in the day, BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha asked the government to clear the air on it as early as possible. Taking to Twitter, he wrote, “Sir, Need to clear the air on ‘Rafale deal’ soon sooner the better. Every day new revelations keep coming out like skeletons from the closet. Your silence is therefore deafening. Sirji it reminds me of a famous late and great poet from Bihar Shri Kaleem Aajiz‘s famous couplets.”
A controversy over Rafale deal broke out when a French media report quoted former French President François Hollande as saying that the Indian government proposed Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as the partner for the French aerospace giant in the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal and France did not have a choice.
Hollande’s comments triggered a sharp reactions from the opposition parties which have been accusing the government of massive irregularities in the deal and benefiting Reliance Defence Ltd (RDL) despite not having any experience in the aerospace sector.
Meanwhile, the Indian government has been maintaining it was not officially aware of whom the Dassault Aviation had selected as its Indian partner to fulfil offset obligations of the deal. Dassault Aviation has said it had made the decision to partner with Reliance Defence Ltd for the Rafale deal.
Time and again Congress has alleged that the fresh deal for Rafale fighter jets was inked by the Narendra Modi government dispensation at a cost much higher than what was negotiated by the previous government (UPA). The party has also been demanding answers from the government on why the HAL was not involved in the deal as finalised during the UPA.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets after holding talks with then French President Hollande on April 10, 2015 in Paris. The final deal was sealed on September 23, 2016.