New Delhi: Hitting back at the Congress, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman claimed Tuesday that the NDA government had got the Rafale fighter jets at a nine per cent cheaper rate than what the UPA had done earlier. Responding to questions over the Congress’ allegations against the government over the Rafale deal, the minister said: “We have responded saying your basic price and the basic price that I am getting... when compared with all the escalations and other things, is nine per cent cheaper.” Ms Sitharaman also added that the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd was dropped from the Rafale deal by the UPA government itself. Ms Sitharaman said since HAL and Dassault Aviation, the French manufacturer of the Rafale, could not agree on the production terms, it was dropped from the deal by the Congress government.
However, the Congress launched a fresh attack over the Rafale deal on Tuesday, saying the defence minister was “suppressing facts”. Former defence minister A.K. Antony accused Ms Sitharaman of trying to tarnish the image of the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd both nationally and globally. He also asked that if the price of the Rafale fighter jets were cheaper than that negotiated by the UPA, why had the government bought only 36 aircraft instead of 126 from the French company. Speaking to reporters, the former defence minister charged that the government was “guilty” of “gravely compromising” national security over the Rafale deal. Mr Antony again reiterated the Congress’ demand to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the Rafale deal. “Since there is a growing perception that the (Narendra) Modi government’s Rafale purchase deal has more skeletons in its closet, let there be a joint parliamentary probe to bring out the truth,” Mr Antony said. He added: “In the JPC, the present government has got a majority. Why are they afraid? Let the JPC go through all the files. The JPC can call files, a JPC that has a majority of persons from the government... can look through all the files and come out with the truth.”
Rejecting the charge levelled by Ms Sitharaman that an unprecedented intervention by him in 2013 had put the “final nail in the coffin” when the cost negotiation committee was giving the final touches to the deal, he said this was completely false.
“Her allegations are completely false and she is deliberately suppressing the facts,” Mr Antony said.