With gloves off, Nirmala Sitharaman defends Rafale-deal, but RaGa unimpressed
From stating facts to how the deal was finalized to launching salvo at UPA over their 'defense deals', Sitharaman touched many topics in her speech which lasted hours while the Opposition continuously asked her questions.
Here's what happened.
Congress never intended to purchase the jets, claims Sitharaman
Sitharaman was giving a point-to-point rebuttal to Congress' questions on Rafale and mentioned the party had no intention to buy the jets as it 'wasn't getting anything'.
"I charge and allege that they did not wish to buy the aircraft. They kept the motions going. Their treasury's security was important," she said.
She dismissed the accusation of fighter aircraft being available off the shelf.
Sitharaman explains math behind number of aircraft
Addressing the dip in the number of aircraft (from 126 to 36), Sitharaman said the theory was false.
She said UPA planned to purchase 18 flyaway jets from France, and the current government enhanced it to 36.
"The timeline for the payment and quantum are all well prepared and kept in the defense ministry," she added to emphasize national security was NDA's priority.
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Congress isn't concerned about Rafale, says Sitharaman while touching pricing
About prices, Sitharaman said the inconsistency in Congress' statements showed they weren't serious about Rafale.
She said, "The 'Rs 526 crore' quote was from 2007. Will it remain the same in 2011 or 2014? There were escalation costs and exchange rate variation."
She argued comparing weaponized aircraft with normal ones was wrong. "Rs. 526 crore can be compared to Rs. 737 crore," she said.
There was even a reference to Robert Vadra
When the members of the Opposition started shouting the name of Anil Ambani (referred to as AA since he isn't a member of the House), Sitharaman reminded jokes are a double-edged sword.
She said, "For every 'AA (Anil Ambani)' there is a 'Q (Quattrocchi)' and 'RV (Robert Vadra)."
The minister noted the first jet will be delivered in 2019 and last in 2022.
"Bofors sank Congress, Rafale will get NDA another term"
"Bofors was a scam, Rafale is not. It is a decision in the national interest. They lost an election because of Bofors. Rafale will bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi back to power," Sitharaman said confidently.
She also read out SC's judgment
Sitharaman also referred to the Supreme Court judgment related to Rafale. Reading out pages of the verdict, Sitharaman said, "The top court's Rafale judgment states: After hearing the matter in detail, we find no reason for intervention on the issue of the purchase of the 36 aircraft."
The apex court noted perception of individuals cannot be the basis for an investigation, Sitharaman reminded.
Stop shedding crocodile tears for HAL: Sitharaman tells RaGa
Sitharaman advised Congress to not shed crocodile tears for HAL. She said RaGa went there and told the company 'Rafale was their right' but the previous government didn't do anything to scale it up.
While UPA gave 53 waivers, the current government gave HAL contracts worth Rs. 1 lakh crore.
She said, "HAL was in Amethi too but did RaGa ask them their concerns."
RaGa sought clarification from Sitharaman
After his name was taken, RaGa sought permission from speaker Sumitra Mahajan to let him clarify. On given the chance, RaGa said he was not accusing Sitharaman or former Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He asked Sitharaman to explain if defense experts and air force officials were consulted by PM when he changed the contract and formed a new one.
Sitharaman took stage to speak again, this time attacked RaGa
Sitharaman stood up again to explain how offset partners worked. She reiterated the government had no role in this and they were chosen by the foreign companies.
She then spoke about the conduct of Opposition and said she was called a liar and PM Modi a thief in the House.
"This is not the way madam. We can't be insulted," she told Mahajan.
But the long speech did little to satisfy RaGa
However, RaGa wasn't satisfied with the answers and said Sitharaman spoke for 2 hours but didn't mention Anil Ambani. He told press rather than answering his questions, Sitharaman indulged in theatrics.
"I asked them if people involved in the negotiations objected to this bypass surgery, yes or no? Instead of answering this, she ran away," he said.
Separately, senior BJP leaders expressed happiness after her speech
Notably, BJP bigwigs including PM Modi congratulated Sitharaman after her speech. President Amit Shah wrote on Twitter lie can't go far and the Defense Minister gave answers to all doubts. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also heaped praises on Sitharaman.