Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh on Wednesday, 13 February, raised questions about the "capability” and “condition" of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). He made the remark amid the Congress' claim that the Narendra Modi-led government had denied the defence PSU an offset contract in the Rafale deal.
Talking to reporters in Pune, the minister defended the Rafale deal, saying the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France was necessary to enhance the Indian Air Force's capabilities.
"Look at the condition of HAL. Our two pilots died. Sorry to say, but the programmes at HAL are running late by three-and-a-half years... parts of aircraft are falling off on the runway. Is this capability? On the other hand, we say that HAL is not getting the (Rafale) work," PTI quoted him as saying.
The minister was referring to the deaths of two pilots in the Mirage 2000 trainer aircraft crash in Bengaluru on 1 February. The aircraft was on an "acceptance sortie" after an upgrade by the HAL.
The Congress party has alleged that the Modi government had sidelined the defence PSU and denied it an offset contract while negotiating the Rafale deal.
Singh said that instead of asking questions from the Centre over the Rafale deal, the party should explain to the nation why the deal was dropped when the party was in power, ANI reported.
Singh, while speaking to ANI, said: "Before they (Congress) seek answers, they must first give answers to the nation. The nation needs to know that why did this deal not go through when everything had been done and at the last minute it was dropped. Can Congress explain that?”
The minister also accused the Congress of ‘dragging the armed forces’ into the alleged scam.
“Second, can they explain why it was not given to HAL? They should come out candidly and explain to the nation. Then only they have a right to ask a question. Most of the time I have found, they just throw out misinformation to distract people and for political game. They are not seeking the truth. They know the truth," he told ANI.
The Union minister said the controversy over the offset contract was uncalled for as the Modi government had nothing to do with the selection.
“The offset partner is decided considering that the same industry should begin here. It is decided by the concerned company after being satisfied with the agency as offset partner. It is not merely giving money,” he said.
‘Opposition Trying to Counter Bofors Scam’
On claims by the Congress that the Modi government had favoured industrialist Anil Ambani's firm in the Rafale deal, the former Army chief said, as per PTI, "In Rafale case, it is the French who decided the offset firm. The objective of the offset is to allow the industry to thrive here... if their firm is not satisfied with HAL, it is their decision, it is not the decision of the Indian government."
The Opposition is trying to rake up the Rafale issue as a counter to the Bofors scam, he said, referring to the Rs 1,437-crore deal between India and Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors in 1986 for supply of 400 units of 155-mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army.
"In the 1960s, we came up with an indigenous design of Hindustan Fighter 24 – Marut. But the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), which was assigned to develop an engine for the aircraft, failed to do so and we had to look at importing the engine," he said, as per PTI.
In order to get the engine, India approached the US, who gave an "over-sparred" engine, leading to the deaths of many pilots, he alleged.
‘National Security Shouldn’t be Politicised’
"We had to scrap the programme. But later, the French approached us and our government allowed them to have a look at a static aircraft. Then they clicked several pictures of the aircraft and on that basis, the series of Mirage aircraft started," he said.
"Had the then government compelled the GTRE to develop the engine, the country would have got its own aircraft, and with advancements in technology, the country's indigenous aircraft would have been better than Rafale," Singh added.
"If they are accusing the present government on the Rafale deal, then the blame for the failure of HF-24 should go to the then government, and I would like to call it treason as the entire data of HF-24 was wiped off without anybody's knowledge," the former Army chief said, as per PTI.
Matters related to national security should not be politicised, the minister said, adding:
"It was necessary to purchase these 36 (Rafale) aircraft as the capabilities of the Indian Air force were depleting. If we keep pulling each others' legs, we will cause a major loss to the defence of the nation."
(With inputs from PTI and ANI)