Congress Asks PM Modi to Clear the Air on Rafale Jet Deal

New Delhi/Hyderabad
Congress Asks PM Modi to Clear the Air on Rafale Jet Deal

The row over the Rafale jet deal refused to subside as Congress today asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come clean on the issue, insisting that purchasing just 36 aircaraft would compromise national security at a time when there have been "daily incursions" by China.

"We demand that the Prime Minister with his great jingoism about patriotism, national security and defence of India come clean on this because repeatedly, the Air Force has demanded at least 45 Squadrons comprising 20 aircrafts each," party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters.

He said that today India has "less than 27 Squadrons" comprising MIGs and Mirages.

Expressing concern over the "flip-flop-flip" of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on the issue, Singhvi wondered whether India's defence preparedness be met by adding just one or two more Squadrons.

Raising a number of questions, he wanted to know from the Prime Minister if the rest of the deal has been scrapped, against the backdrop of the Defence Minister's latest statement that only 36 jets would be bought and "126 Rafales were economically unviable".

Singhvi said if this was so, what happened to the 'Make in India' programme under which the French jets were to be manufactured in the country as the earlier insistence was on transfer of technology as part of the deal.

Besides, he wondered whether it meant that the IAF would have no more Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) and would have to do with the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas only when India needed 10 to 15 squadrons of MMRCA.

He sought to know whether there was any plan to manufacture Rafale in India and if it was so whether state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd or an "unnamed but known private manufacturer" will be making it.

Singhvi asked whether India will be able to tackle threats from China and Pakistan with such "limited" aircraft. "Are you not compromising national security when there have been daily incursions from China?" he asked.

"Can your diplomatic moves in China and Pakistan be adequately protected and secured with such minimal of Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft. It is mysterious?" he asked.

Congress said the NDA government's decision to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets was "arbitrary", and claimed that it "cuts out" Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) from the process.

Speaking at a press conference, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said the party will raise the issue in the Parliament, and that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have do some answering on the issue.

"If he (Modi) believes in transparency and if he is sincere about Make-in-India (programme), then what's behind this Rafale deal?" Sharma asked.

"There was no Maintenance Transfer of Technology (MToT) provision in the deal and HAL has been cut out," he said.

Sharma said he was shocked to learn from HAL officials that the company had also been cut out of the proposed fifth-generation fighter aircraft programme (with Russia).

During his visit to France last month, Modi announced the decision to buy 36 Rafale jets in a fly-away condition under government-to-government contract.

"Where is the transparency in this decision?" Sharma asked, claiming that even the Finance Minister and the Home Minister, who are members of the cabinet committee on security, were kept in the dark.

"This big question will be put to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was he who took the decision. Questions will be put to government in Parliament," said Sharma, who is Congress's deputy leader in Rajya Sabha.

"Details (of the deal) have been shrouded in a sort of mystery. No body knows. Cabinet ministers don't know.... Parliament doesn't know," he said.

Sharma also targeted Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, terming his performance as "pathetic".

"He shoots (off) his mouth on issues where he should keep quiet," the Congress leader said.

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