Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday lashed out at the opposition for making “baseless allegations” over the Rafale deal.
Speaking at the India Summit 2018 in Mumbai, Sitharaman reiterated the government’s stance on the matter, saying that there was no scam or scandal to be unearthed and that the Congress was trying to “mislead the nation”.
Dassault Aviation, the maker of the Rafale jets, has chosen Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as its offset partner (when making large deals like this with foreign manufacturers, countries often demand for an offset obligation to be met by way of purchase of goods and services from a company of that country). Recently, reports that the partner was chosen by the Indian government had surfaced before Dassault clarified saying the choice was made by it.
Sitharaman maintained that the defence ministry has not been apprised of Dassault’s offset partners. “The official records on offsets will be kept by the ministry from the time claims are made. Dassault has to come to the ministry to claim that their offset obligation has been fulfilled, till that happens I won’t know,” she said, adding that the company still has time before they have to present these claims.
“Defence procurements have remained too complicated, complex and time consuming… They can remain opaque and cause suspicion in the minds of people,” she went on to say, adding that although the government is working towards making the process more transparent, the opposition is trying its best to sow the seeds of doubt in the public’s mind.
On the $5 billion deal announced between India and Russia to purchase air defence system S-400, Sitharaman said the issue was not brought up by the U.S. during the recent 2+2 bilateral talks. Despite U.S. president Donald Trump making a cryptic remark earlier this month on the deal where he said India “will find out” if he would decide on punitive sanctions against India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), Sitharaman said the message she received was a different one.
“During the 2+2 dialogue that we had with the U.S., CAATSA was not raised at all… I didn’t find that odd. It did not surprise me but I was happy for the fact that it wasn’t raised,” she said, adding that India made its decision to buy S-400 from Russia very clear to the U.S. “We are grateful and happy that the American position as represented by the secretary of defence was that they understood why India had to go ahead with some of our purchases,” she went on, saying that partnerships require both partners to be strong.
“If India has to take the position of a good strategic partner to the U.S., I would think it is necessary to appreciate that for India to be strong, it needs this kind of equipment in the armed forces,” Sitharaman asserted.
The minister further went on to say that India’s defence had taken a step towards an integrated command for all three forces—army, navy and air force. “We have initiated an integrated command in Andaman and Nicobar… The chief who heads it controls everything to do with army, navy and air force in the area,” she said, adding that the ministry will look at more such integrated commands in the mainland going forward to ensure optimal usage of assets and resources.
When asked about China’s strategic defence moves, Sitharaman assured the people that qualified strategic experts, both from the government and independent, were working with the armed forces to continuously monitor the situation and look at India’s position.