A day after Rahul Gandhi attacked the Modi government over the Rafale fighter aircraft agreement, the Congress and BJP exchanged barbs over the deal in two separate press conferences addressed by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala.
In what was the first firm rebuttal of the charges leveled by Congress, Sitharaman termed the Congress' allegations about the Rafale fighter jet deal as "shameful" and said that these amounted to a "disservice" to the armed forces.
Meanwhile, Surjewala, in his conference later in the day, said defence preparedness could not be a subject for politicising, and accused Sitharaman of using the defence ministry premises for "political mudslinging".
Allegations and counter-allegations were made by both the sides on several aspects of the deal. Here is a lowdown of all hot-button issues:
On Offset Clause and Favouring Reliance
Sitharaman rubbished allegations that government was favouring any businessperson through the Rafale deal, amid allegations by the opposition that the deal was tweaked to favour businessman Anil Ambani.
On the question of offshore contracts, she said:
Let me make it very clear, no offset contracts have been signed so far. If two private firms come together, that doesn’t require permission from the ministry. And if it is consistent with the DIPP’s policy, they go ahead with it. To think that that has something to do with the inter-governmental agreement in the purchase of Rafale is just unfounded.Nirmala Sitharaman, Defence Minister
Surjewala questioned why public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was bypassed for getting the offset contract of Rs 30,000 crore, despite the work share agreement of 13 March 2014 between HAL and Dassault Aviation.
Why did the Prime Minister promote the interests of a private corporate entity over a public sector undertaking? Is it not correct that HAL is the only Indian entity which has decades of experience of building aircrafts? How was HAL bypassed in favour of Reliance, when Reliance had zero experience of building fighter aircraft?Randeep Surjewala, Communications In-charge, Congress
On Defence Procurement Procedure
Sitharaman said the inter-governmental agreement with France for "emergency" procurement was struck following a transparent procedure.
These allegations are shameful... The deal was finalised following a transparent procedure.Nirmala Sitharaman, Defence Minister
The defence minister said the final agreement for 36 Rafale jets was signed in September 2016 after five rounds of "lengthy" discussions between Indian and the French sides, and had the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Surjewala, on the other hand, lashed out at the Sitharaman, saying:
The defence minister is lying that proper defence procurement procedure was followed. The approval by the Cabinet Committee of Security was also not taken.Randeep Surjewala, Communications In-charge, Congress
Cost of the Aircraft
In her presser, Sitharaman asserted that the cost of each aircraft along with weapon systems was much lower than what was negotiated by the UPA government.
Questioning the previous UPA governments' "inability" to finalise the deal even after 10 years of negotiations between 2004 and 2014, the defence minister wondered whether the Congress does not owe an explanation to the country over the delay in taking a decision when IAF badly needed the jets.
That was the grim situation when this government came to power in 2014 and, therefore, we had to move forward so that the air force wasnot left with unattended requirements for the sake of preparedness.Nirmala Sitharaman, Defence Minister
However, when asked repeatedly about the comparative cost of each aircraft negotiated by the then-UPA government and the rate at which the deal was sealed last year, Sitharaman said she was not running away from sharing the details and asked the officials to give the figures to the media.
Surjewala, on the other hand, remarked that while the cost of one Rafale aircraft as negotiated by the UPA was Rs 526 crore, under the Modi government, the purchase price was Rs 1,570 crore. He went on to say:
Why is there a difference in cost and how did it increase three-fold? Why are the Prime Minister and Defence Minister not giving an answer?Randeep Surjewala, Communications In-Charge, Congress
(With inputs from PTI.)
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam