No question of engaging opposition, they are misleading the country: Sitharaman

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday ruled out any engagement with the opposition on issues relating to the Rafale fighter jet deal.

According to PTI, Sitharaman said that they do not deserve to be involved after throwing muck on a very sensitive issue concerning India’s defence preparedness. Further, she also added that the government decided to go for procuring only two squadrons of Rafale jets as an emergency measure in the wake of China and Pakistan significantly ramping up their air power by inducting stealth fighters.

“Is there any point of calling them and explaining? They are misleading the country with something which was not even agreed to during the UPA government. You are throwing an allegation saying there is a fraud. You did not care for operational preparedness of the air force.”

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When asked whether the government will engage with opposition parties the way the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 had taken the opposition into confidence and addressed their apprehensions to pave way for finalising the nuclear deal with the US, Sitharaman said “It (Rafale deal) is an inter-governmental agreement. You (Opposition) have asked us questions and I have given answers to them in Parliament. Then what am I calling them for? What am I going to tell them when I call them?”

Opposition parties especially the Congress have been attacking the Modi led government alleging it is procuring 36 Rafale jets from France at an exorbitantly high cost. Congress has said the UPA finalised a price of Rs. 526 crore per fighter while negotiating a deal to buy 126 Rafale jets, but the current government is buying each aircraft at Rs. 1,670 crores when the weapons and avionics onboard the jets will be of the same configuration.

Replying to the opposition, Sitharaman said the weapon systems, avionics and other key add-ons to the Rafale aircraft are “much superior” in comparison to what was negotiated by the UPA. In 2016, the Modi government signed a deal with France for the purchase of Rafale jets at an estimated cost of Rs. 58,000 crore.

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When asked whether the controversy surrounding Rafale will hit the flow of foreign funds into the defence sector, Sitharaman said it will not have any impact as it is very clear that allegations are baseless.

Sitharaman also rejected the opposition charge that the government was trying to benefit Reliance Defence Ltd (RDL) from the deal under the offset requirement, saying the government has no role in selecting an offset partner of Dassault Aviation, the maker of Rafale. She also added that she does not know which company Dassault Aviation is partnering with to execute the offset obligations.

“I have not got to know who is Dassault’s offset partner. It is a commercial decision. There are laid down procedure to check the process of fulfilment of offset obligations. Neither I can accept, nor I can suggest, nor I can reject anybody from going with anybody.”

On October 27, 2017, Dassault Aviation and Reliance Defence laid the foundation for manufacturing facility near Nagpur to manufacture aerospace components and fulfil offset obligation connected to the Rafale deal.

The opposition, however, has asked how RDL, with no experience in the aerospace sector, can be chosen as an offset partner while the government has been maintaining that it was officially ignorant of the fact that Dassault has joined hands with RDL to execute offset obligations.

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