Chidambaram requests Army, Air Force to stay out of Rafale debate

Bengaluru: Former finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram on Friday requested the Indian Army and Air Force to refrain from indulging in the ongoing debate over the Rafale fighter jet deal.

“We are not questioning the Air Force Chief, we are humbly requesting the Army and Air Force to stay out Rafale debate. If Air Chief really wants to comment, then he should ask the government why it is only buying 36 aircraft when there is a requirement of 126 aircraft,” Chidambaram said while addressing a press conference.

Chidambaram’s comments come two days after Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said Rafale jets were a necessity, adding that all of India’s adversaries had already upgraded their systems.

“Rafale is always a need for the Air Force. It (fighter jets) took a long time to come. Others have upgraded their squadron,” he had said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Chidambaram also criticised the BJP for not letting a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe the Rafale case, and said, “Rafale deal is already being discussed in the Parliament and we weren’t satisfied with the government response and asked for JPC. Now, why is the BJP citing shy of a JPC if everything is above board?”
The senior Congress leader further appealed to people to support his party’s demand for the constitution of a JPC.

“Rafale will remain our issue in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections as defence deal worth Rs 60,000 crore that will leave the country with only 36 aircraft as against 126 contracted for under the UPA cannot go unchallenged,” he said.

Continuing his tirade against the Centre for entering into an entirely new deal with France, Chidambaram asked why a deal, that was 95 per cent finalised, had to be scrapped rather than being sealed by the NDA government. “From 95 per cent, the government should have taken it to 100 per cent. Instead of that why did they cancel an old deal and
entered into a new agreement then even if they signed a new agreement then why buying only 36,” he asked.

“The only pending issue between HAL and Dassault was that who will guarantee the performance of the aircraft that were supposed to be built in Bengaluru. Dassault’s position was we can only guarantee the 36 aircraft, not the remaining 108 that are to be built in Bengaluru. However, HAL was of the view that if it’s your technology and our factory then we should guarantee it together. I think it was a fair demand,” he added.

Reacting to the apex court’s decision on the Rafale deal and a subsequent filing of a plea to rectify an error in an affidavit filed by the Centre in court, Chidambaram asserted that the top court cannot be the answer to every issue. “Nobody from the Congress party went to the Supreme Court as we have said that it is not for the court to decide. For every matter, apex court is not a solution,” he added.

Chidambaram also slammed Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for stating that the Rafale deal was retained at 20 per cent lower prices. “If prices were lower according to you (Defence Minister) then buy the remaining 90, why are you not contracting for 126? Let it be manufactured either in Paris or wherever because you cannot put the country’s security at stake.”

On December 14, the Supreme Court had dismissed petitions seeking a probe into the deal, saying it did not find any substantial material on record to show that this is a case of commercial favouritism to any party by the Government of India.

Later, the Centre sought urgent correction in the wording of a particular paragraph in the order “in the interests of justice and in the facts and circumstances of the case”, while noting that “the observations in the judgment have resulted in a controversy.”

On the other hand, while addressing the media on Thursday Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said, “The Supreme Court has given a very fine judgement and I am not going to comment on it. It has also said that this plane is badly needed.
Rafale is always a need for the Air Force. It (fighter jets) took a long time to come. Others have upgraded their squadron. Also, very fine comments are given by the Finance Minister (Arun Jaitley) and our Defence Minister (Nirmala Sitharaman).

The Congress and some other opposition parties have been alleging that the due processes were not followed in the decision to procure 36 aircraft from French company Dassault.