‘RM (Rafale Minister) must resign’: Rahul Gandhi tweets attack on fighter jet row
The Congress on Thursday escalated its attacks on the Modi government over the Rafale deal with party chief Rahul Gandhi demanding defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s resignation for “lying” on the capability of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to build the fighter aircraft.
“The RM (Rafale Minister) tasked with defending corruption has been caught lying again. The former HAL Chief, TS Raju, has nailed her lie, that HAL didn’t have the capability to build the RAFALE. Her position is untenable & she must resign,” Gandhi tweeted.
He was referring to a September 20 Hindustan Times report on the former HAL chief’s assertion that the state-run plane maker could have built Rafale aircraft in India had the government managed to close the original negotiations with French aerospace firm Dassault Aviation for 126 fighters and that there was a work-share agreement between the two companies.
Defence ministry officials on Wednesday reiterated there were areas of disagreement between HAL and Dassault such as work-share, responsibility sharing and man-hours required for making aircraft components. They added that there were many areas of diasgreement between HAL and Dassault regarding “responsibility sharing” and “man-hours required for manufacture”.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said HAL had highlighted work-share and responsibility sharing issues in letters to the ministry in October 2012 and July 2014, but that there was no work-share agreement as claimed by Raju. They added that claiming lower life cycle cost was presumptive as work-share between the two firms was not agreed upon, adding the proposal for buying 126 jets did not progress due to these very reasons.
HT’s September 20 report referred to some of these issues including the fact that HAL’s cost of assembling the aircraft was high and that it was taking more time than the French company thought it should.
The main opposition party has alleged that the Modi government caused a loss of over Rs 41,000 crore to the public exchequer and endangered national security by overlooking HAL.
Later, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari too demanded Sitharaman’s resignation for allegedly “misleading” the people on the Rafale deal, claiming that the government’s arguments have been “demolished” by the former HAL chief’s statement. Raju, who was heading HAL till three weeks ago, was also a member of the defence ministry’s Contract Negotiation Committee for the 126 fighters.
The NDA government’s decision to enter into a government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes was announced in April 2015 with the deal signed a little over a year later. This replaced the UPA regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by HAL using parts imported from France.
The former union minister also reiterated his party’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale deal. “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 added, referring to one of the Modi government’s flagship programmes. Tewari demanded that the government should make public all the files related to the issue as demanded by the HAL chief.