New Delhi: Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday accused the Congress of “misleading the country" on questions of national security, alleging it did not close the Rafale deal when it was in power because the party was unable to make money out of it. In a more than-two-hour-long reply on the issue in the Lok Sabha, Sitharaman made a “point-by-point" rebuttal, saying the delivery of the aircraft will happen on time.
Earlier Congress-led governments were linked to corruption in defence deals, Sitharaman said, adding that Rafale will bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government back to power.
“In the same breath, I do not want to talk about Bofors because Bofors was a scam and Rafale is not. Rafale is a decision taken in national interest. I also want to say this that Bofors brought them down, they lost an election but Rafale will bring us back, Rafale will bring Modi back," Sitharaman said amid repeated disruptions from the opposition benches, particularly the Congress, while giving the government’s response on the Rafale debate that began on Wednesday with Congress president Rahul Gandhi and finance minister Arun Jaitley exchanging barbs over the issue.
“There is a difference between defence dealings and dealing in defence. We don’t do defence dealings. We deal with defence, with national security as priority," she said. The Congress stopped the Rafale deal because “something did not suit them", she alleged.
Sitharaman’s corruption accusation against the Congress comes at a time when the latter has been aggressively attacking the government not just inside the Parliament but outside it as well.
With Lok Sabha elections likely less than 100 days away, the Congress is trying to make Rafale a key part of its poll campaign.
Sitharaman said the defence ministry has run without middlemen for the last five years and also assured that the French-made fighter jets would be delivered in a timebound manner.
“The assumption that these fighters are available off the shelf is wrong. The IGA (inter governmental agreement) was signed on 23 September 2016 and the first aircraft will get delivered three years from that date and the last aircraft will come in 2022," she said.
At the end of her speech, Gandhi intervened to say that questions raised by the Congress were not being answered. Later in the day, Gandhi said: “The youngsters should know that this is a ploy to mislead them. There are straight questions which have to be answered in yes or no but the defence minister has evaded it."
Earlier in the day, Gandhi reiterated the opposition’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the issue and said if voted to power, the Congress will launch an investigation into the Rafale deal.