Bengaluru: Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday assured Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) employees, both former and current, that he would protect their future.
Gandhi’s allegations against the government on Saturday increased the scope of his protests from HAL to the alleged dismantling of the entire public sector undertaking ecosystem, which he said was the backbone of the country.
“If somebody thinks they can build their future on your (HAL) graves that won’t be allowed either. There is tremendous amount of experience you have and it cannot be destroyed in this manner. You are fighting for this and I want to tell you that we will also not allow it," Gandhi said on Saturday.
The Congress president was in the city to muster support for the Congress, which has led protests against Prime minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s decision to snub HAL in the around ₹ 58,000 crore Rafale fighter aircraft deal.
Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence has a 51:49 joint venture with French aircraft maker Dassault — Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL) — which has an offset contract of around ₹ 30,000 crore for 36 Rafale aircraft.
Rahul Gandhi and the Congress is trying to consolidate Opposition support against Modi in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Gandhi has led the Opposition’s effort on topics such as demonetisation, implementation of the goods and services tax (GST), rise in prices of petrol and diesel as well as a falling rupee among other issues to corner the government, hoping to reap rich dividends in next year’s general elections.
He even took on defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman saying she had questioned the capability of HAL to build the Rafale but not that of Ambani, who got the contract despite his company being just 12 days old compared to the 78-year-old PSU.
Stating that Sitaraman had gone to France to ‘cover up’ the alleged scam, he said the Congress would take the protests to the streets, and even demanded an apology from the defence minister for hurting the sentiment of employees of HAL.
“Our identity is being taken away by the government," Umesh, a trade union activist said, adding, the handing over of the Rafale deal to a private player was not just about corruption but ‘also about the dismantling the public sector’.
Several activists alleged that the government was trying to ‘dismantle’ the public sector set up of the country and handing it to private entities. Gandhi said the interests of all public sectors needed to be protected.
“We are going to protect your future," Gandhi said, while adding that it was important the PSU employees and the Congress remain connected to take on the ‘influential and connected’.
Shivalingaiah, the president of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe association of HAL, said almost 1500-2000 people in the aircraft division of the company, were sitting jobless due to lack of work for the PSU. Several trade unions would undertake two-day protest on January 8-9 against the government’s decision to dismantle public sector undertakings.
Reliance Group companies have sued HT Media Ltd, Mint’s publisher, and nine others in Bombay high court over a 2 October 2014 front-page story that they have disputed. HT Media is contesting the case