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Cong, BJP continue to spew fire over Rafale issue

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: January 7, 2019  | 22:53 IST

(Eds: Incorporates related stories ) New Delhi, Jan 7 (PTI) The political slugfest over the Rafale fighter jet deal continued on Monday with Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rejecting "doubts" raised by the Congress on contracts to HAL as "incorrect and misleading" and Rahul Gandhi accusing the government of "weakening" the state-run aero major and destroying India's strategic capability. Sitharaman said in the Lok Sabha that the defence PSU has been awarded works worth over Rs 26,000 crore and projects amounting to Rs 73,000 crore are in the pipeline. Her clarification came amid a political furore over her statement in the House regarding orders placed with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), with Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleging that she had "lied" that government orders worth Rs one lakh crore were provided to the company. Amid protests by opposition members, Sitharaman told the Lok Sabha Monday, "I would like to set all doubts to rest... the doubts raised in this regard are incorrect and misleading." The minister said she has received confirmation that contract amounting to more than Rs 26,000 crore have already been signed between 2014-18. Gandhi hit back accusing her of "lying" in Parliament and evading his questions on the Rafale deal. The Congress and the BJP-led NDA government are engaged in a war of words after a media report claimed that HAL, grappling with low finances, was forced to borrow Rs 1,000 crore to pay salaries to its employees, for the first time in years. There was another report that claimed "not a single rupee of the said Rs 1 lakh crore has come to HAL, since not a single order, as claimed, has been signed till now". Gandhi while speaking to the media outside Parliament alleged the government gave Rs 20,000 crore to France's Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale jets, even though it has not supplied a single aircraft. "But why have HAL's dues of Rs 15,700 crore not been cleared?" Gandhi asked. He alleged that it was "necessary" for the government to "destroy HAL because with a strong HAL, you simply cannot give the contract to anybody else". "So you have to undermine HAL which is what the government is doing. They are saying HAL can't build anything, but Anil Ambani can. Anil Ambani has never built an aircraft in his life, HAL has built multiple different types of aircraft." "The strategy of the government is -- weaken HAL, do not give it money, destroy India's strategic capability and give the 'gift' to Anil Ambani. That is the plan and that is what we are trying to thwart," Gandhi asserted. Former Defence minister A K Antony also accused the NDA government of compromising national security and said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Sitharaman "lied" and "misled" Parliament about the process adopted for the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets. Antony asked why the government was running away from a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe and "hiding" the actual price of the aircraft in the new deal. "Is it correct of Prime Minister Modi to violate Defence Procurement Procedure and bypass Defence Acquisition Council," he asked. "Such a responsible senior minister, finance minister, he lied in the Lok Sabha, I am very sorry for him. They can show the file noting on 27.6.2012 and that file is with them. Defence minister also repeated the same. So, the finance minister and the defence minister misled Parliament," he said. "The NDA government led by Narendra Modi has seriously compromised national security by unilaterally reducing number of MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) from 126 to 36, that too when the the UPA government's negotiation for purchasing 126 aircraft was almost 90 per cent over and in the final stage. "They have further compromised national security by weakening and also tarnishing the image of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited - India's only aircraft manufacturing company," Antony alleged. The BJP accused Rahul Gandhi of lying on Rafale issue, claiming that the Congress chief's campaign on the fighter jet deal was based on "pure commercial interest" and influenced by middlemen. The Congress has unleashed an "entire campaign of canard" over the Rafale deal, senior BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said. Citing a report, he said, "A media house has come up with documents which reveal that the same middlemen who were pushing for the case for AgustaWestland, one of them being under arrest, were also pushing the case for Eurofighter, which was in competition with Rafale." Referring to the documents from Christian Michel, an accused in AgustaWestland deal, Prasad asked why the name of a leading family appeared in the documents related to AgustaWestland or the air force's fighter planes. "The available documents in the public domain raise serious suspicion of intention of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress. It is too well known that the Congress is never happy unless there is a deal in a defence deal," he said. "In this light, the entire bogie of falsehood, entire campaign of canard unleashed by Rahul Gandhi is completely false and based upon pure commercial interest," he said. The Congress chief also challenged Modi to face him in a debate for 15 minutes on the Rafale issue. PTI ASK/PR/KR/MPB/SKC GVS

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