Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday said that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman evaded his questions on the controversial Rafale deal and “ran away” when asked a pointed question if the Air Force objected to the changes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made in “two minutes” to the defence acquisition deal negotiated over eight years.
Talking to reporters after a debate on the Rafale deal in Lok Sabha, the Congress President said Sitharaman, instead of answering his simple question in yes or no, started “doing drama” and then ran away. He said the intention of the BJP-led government was to mislead the youth of the nation.
“Instead of answering the question, she started doing drama — ‘Oh I was insulted. I was called a liar’. My simple question was that after such a long negotiation by the Air Force chief, Defence Minister, secretaries and Air Force officers, did those who did the whole negotiation object when (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi did the bypass surgery to the negotiated deal?” Gandhi said.
He added that Sitharaman, in her speech, made the admission that the Prime Minister did indeed conduct the “bypass surgery” and issued a new contract to buy 36 fighter aircraft from French aircraft manufacturer Dassault, as opposed to 136 such aircraft negotiated in the earlier deal.
“I asked when this bypass surgery happened, did the Air Force officials object to it? It was a simple question and she evaded the question and left without answering in affirmative of negative,” the Congress President said.
He said that in her two-and-half hour long speech, the Defence Minister did not answer any question.
“The crux (of her speech) was that the deal was negotiated by Air Force for over eight years and Modi changed that contract in two minutes,” Gandhi said.
“I just asked her — did they object? Yes or no? She just ran away,” he added.
Earlier, Sitharaman dismissed all allegations of corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal and hit back at the Congress saying while Bofors deal was a scam, the Rafale deal was in national interest which would bring Narendra Modi back as Prime Minister.
“Bofors was a scam, but Rafale was a decision taken in national interest. Rafale will bring back Modi to build a new India and remove corruption,” she said in a reply lasting over two-and-half hours in the Lok Sabha to a debate on the deal with French manufacturer Dassault.
The Minister said there was a difference between defence dealings and dealing in defence.
“We deal in defence with national security as a priority,” she said.
She said the first Rafale fighter jet will be delivered in September this year and the remaining 35 aircraft by 2022.