Rafael Jet Debate: Defence Minister applauded by PM, Jaitely for debate on deal against Congress

New Delhi: The Rafale fighter Jet deal bought by the ruling government is in controversy for quite some time now and for all the right reasons this time.

Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman spoke for two long hours defending the ruling party’s move on Rafael deal which ended in applauds from Senior party leader Arun Jaitely as well as PM Modi himself, The Telegraph reported.

At the end of debate Arun Jaitley, who was deployed to defend the fighter deal, tweeted: “Well done! Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman ji, for an outstanding performance. You demolished the fake campaign. We are all proud of your performance.”

While PM Modi played the examiner here and gave Sitharaman full marks.
He took to Twitter and said: “Defence Minister @nsitharaman’s speech in the Parliament demolishes the campaign of calumny on Rafale. Must watch!” Sitharaman had indeed delivered a “must-watch” performance.

The Minister managed to speak for two hours and answered questions prepared by Congress Chief Rahul Gandhi, questions which were originally framed for Modiji.

Rahul speaking to the media said: “The crux of the matter is, Modi changed the deal. She accepted this that the Prime Minister had created a new deal owing to an emergency situation. I asked her to reply in `yes’ or `no’ to this simple question- Did the defence Ministry objected to PM’s decision on doing bypass surgery or did the Ministry tell PM that that defence procurement procedures should not be bypassed?

Sitharaman told the Lok Sabha that, “During the negotiation, a lot of opinions are recorded also. We did not hide anybody’s viewpoint. But that joint secretary, who they love quoting saying that he differed from the whole process, was the one who also signed the report. All the seven members signed the report and he was the one to sign the draft, which went for the CCS (cabinet committee on security) approval. So, do not constantly raise that question without hearing the reply.

“During the discussion, a lot of things are said and they are recorded. They are not hidden. They are not wiped off. It is the same joint secretary who signed the report, which went to the CCS for approval. He along with six others, who make up for the seven members in total, signed the INT (Indian negotiating team) report.”

Sudhanshu Mohanty, the former head of finance in the defence ministry in an interview last year wondered why the benchmark price for the deal was changed and what possible justification the senior ministry officials could give when they had negotiated the contract.

The Congress said that Prime Minister had overruled the objections at a meeting of the cabinet committee on security and asked why hiked the benchmark price from Rs 39,422 crore to Rs 62,166 crore for the deal.

Congress made the file notings from the Defence Ministry public. Addressing the media, the party said one noting on the file read “the Maintenance Terms and Conditions including PBG (performancebased guarantee) of 36 Rafale IGA (inter-government agreement) was not better than that of 126 MMRCA bid (the original bid for 126 aircraft when the UPA was in power).”

Another noting, according to the Congress, read: “The delivery schedule of 36 Rafale IGA was not better than that of 126 MMRCA bid.”

The first Rafael aircraft is scheduled to be delivered in September 2019 and all the 36 aircraft by 2022 which about seven years after the Prime Minister gave his nod on April 10, 2015.

Another important noting that Congress has made public is: “The 20% discount offer of EADS (the European aerospace corporation) in 126 MMRCA tender was ignored. The INT (Indian negotiating team) should take EADS quote for 36 Rafale delivery equivalent and then compare prices.”

Why did the Ministry ignore to bid afresh when Modi decided to make fresh purchase of Rafael in April 2015 that is after an year of Eurofighter Typhoon’s letter “offering to reduce the price by 20 per cent” sent on July 4, 2014, to Arun Jaitley.

Another purported file noting cited by the Congress was “as per the prices reflected in Dassault’s financial results, it has sold Rafale at a cheaper rate to Qatar and Egypt as compared to India”.

Congress estimated that India paid an additional Rs 10,487.16 crore, compared with the price of 48 Rafale aircraft Egypt and Qatar had bought in 2015.

To that Sitharaman replied that the Egyptian and Qatari figures were neither official nor comparable.

Later, Rahul told reporters outside the Parliament that, “The reality is, they don’t have the answers. Drama shuru kar diya. Insulted me, called me a liar. Phir bhag gayi (then ran away).”.