UPA made terms of Rafale deal difficult for HAL: Sitharaman

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government failed to strengthen Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for better bidding prices even as the terms of the bidding were against the interests of the state-owned enterprise, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in a rebuttal to Congress party’s allegations of her suppressing facts on Rafale deal.

In fact, Sitharaman said, every question on the Rafale deal should actually be directed to the Congress party. The UPA started negotiations ignoring the interests of IAF and HAL, she added.
“The entire issue of HAL not being chosen happened during their time. Every question should actually go to them. You (UPA) have not taken care of HAL. You have not made the terms appealing enough for HAL to bid it successfully with Dassault,” Sitharaman said, refuting former defence minister A K Antony’s allegations.
The minister said the bidding was already out of bounds for HAL as the UP had already sidelined the interests of HAL, and it is the UPA government to blame for all these, not the present one.
We have addressed all concerns, including basic prices in Parliament, and all other questions must go to them, they must take responsibility, she said.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi accuses the Modi government of tailoring the Rafale deal to benefit “one businessman”, by sealing the deal at a much higher price than the UPA government had fixed during negotiation, while Antony is accusing the defence minister of suppressing facts.
The NDA government asserts that the Rafale jets are being bought at a much lower price and that the joint agreement between Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group and French Company Dassault has nothing to do with the 36 fighter jets that are being delivered in fly away condition.
Sitharaman was addressing a press conference at the Indian Women’s Press Corps. She was responding to the accusations made by former defence minister A K Antony earlier on Tuesday afternoon, on shying away from setting up a joint parliamentary committee to probe the Rafale deal.
“The Rafale deal didn't happen during UPA. What also didn't happen during UPA was, that between HAL and Dassault, they couldn't agree on production terms. So HAL and Rafale couldn't go together. Doesn't that very clearly say who didn't go together with HAL, under which government did that happen,” Sitharaman asked, adding that Antony should understand the process.
Sitharaman also alleged that it was the previous government which didn’t take care of the interests of HAL and the Indian Air Force.
“Isn’t it obvious that the interest of HAL could have been taken care of at that time? Neither HAL’s interests nor Indian Air Force’s interest were taken care of by the UPA government,” she said.
“If the agreement between Dassault and HAL did not happen, the facts are before us. What we have done after coming into talking with Dassault, with PM going in 2015 and signing agreement in 2016, has been for an intergovernmental based procurement of 36 aircrafts in ready-to-fly condition,” the minister said.
Sitharaman also criticised Navjot Singh Sidhu’s hug with Pakistan’s army chief on Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony in Pakistan, calling it “demoralising”.
“It certainly has an impact on soldiers and the people in ministry. Public response has been similar that it demoralises. If it demoralises people, I wish Sidhu would have avoided,” the Union minister said.
“I'm not talking about him going, but that single gesture of hugging the chief of Pakistan’s Army,” she said, adding that “we have clear feelings regarding the army chief.”