Nothing can be worse for any country than matters of national security being dragged into political slug fests.
There can be nothing worse for any country than, when matters of national security are dragged into political slug fests. Allegations by the Congress party accusing the top BJP hierarchy of vested interests in the procurement of 36 fighter jets from France and that too 14 months after the deal was announced and signed, only goes to prove this.
Matters that should have been debated in the Parliament have become an open road fight.
A day after the Congress party alleged that the government had negotiated an overpriced deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday issued a strong rejoinder to the Congress calling the allegations leveled by them as "shameful." Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa has already refuted these allegations on Thursday (16 November).
The $8.7 billion deal for 36 fighter jets was signed in September 2016 and after five rounds of lengthy discussions between Indian and French sides and approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Stating that such bickering was a "disservice" to the armed forces, she asserted that urgent requirement of the Indian Air Force was the main reason for sealing the deal.
"These allegations are shameful...The deal was finalised following a transparent procedure," Ms Sitharaman said at a media briefing where Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra and Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar were also present.
The Congress had earlier this week alleged that the Modi government changed the "entire deal" to benefit its "crony capitalist friends" at the cost of a reputed public sector undertaking, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). As per Congress, the deal has caused "insurmountable loss" of taxpayers' money. It had further alleged that the cost of each aircraft is three times more than what the previous UPA had negotiated with France in 2012.
While Air Force Chief B S Dhanoa asserted that the government had negotiated "a better and a cheaper deal" for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircrafts, RM Sitharaman told the media that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the French government during his April 2015 visit to Paris and the final agreement for 36 Rafale jets was signed the next year after five rounds of lengthy discussions between Indian and French sides. She further added that the approval was given by the Cabinet Committee on Security, and that "not a single procedure was violated in procuring the jets".
Sitharaman also took on the Congress, blaming it for a long lag to buy the fighter jets that the Indian Air Force needed. "Between 2000-14, the UPA government could not arrive at a decision….14 long years of negotiations and still no decision. That was the situation when our government came to power in 2014. PM Modi understood the loss of time and took the government-to-government route for 36 aircraft. Transfer of technology from France to India made no economic sense", Sitharaman added.
The RM said that under the Defence Procurement Procedure, it was "allowed to use the government-to-government route to buy the 36 aircraft in fly-away condition at the earliest….The procedure was duly followed", she said.
Amidst this round of allegations and counter-allegations, clearly the issue is more political than anything else and the Congress is seen converting this into an election agenda ahead of the 2019 general polls. Otherwise why raise it after more than a year has gone by.