'Won't engage Oppn on Rafale'
New Delhi: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has ruled out any engagement with the Opposition on issues relating to the multi-billion dollar Rafale fighter jet deal, saying they do not deserve to be involved after throwing muck on a very sensitive issue concerning India's defence preparedness.
Sitharaman said the government decided to go for procuring only two squadrons of Rafale jets as an emergency measure in the wake of China and Pakistan significantly ramping up their air power by inducting stealth fighters.
"Is there any point of calling them and explaining? They are misleading the country with something which was not even agreed to during the UPA government. You are throwing an allegation saying there is a fraud. You did not care for operational preparedness of the air force," she told PTI in an interview.
The defence minister was asked whether the government will engage with opposition parties the way the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 had taken the Opposition into confidence and addressed their apprehensions to pave way for finalising the nuclear deal with the US.
"It (Rafale deal) is an inter-governmental agreement. You (Opposition) have asked us questions and I have given answers to them in Parliament. Then what am I calling them for? What am I going to tell them when I call them?" she said. The defence minister also asserted that the Rafale deal cannot be equated with the Bofors issue at all as was being attempted by the Opposition, as she has rid the defence ministry from middlemen entirely.
Led by Congress, opposition parties have been attacking the Modi government alleging it is procuring 36 Rafale jets from France at an exorbitantly high cost.
Congress has said the UPA finalised a price of Rs 526 crore per fighter while negotiating a deal to buy 126 Rafale jets, but the current government is buying each aircraft at Rs 1,670 crore when the weapons and avionics onboard the jets will be of same configuration.
Sitharaman said the weapon systems, avionics and other key add-ons to the Rafale aircraft will be "much superior" in comparison to what was negotiated by the UPA.
In 2016, the Modi government signed a government-to-government deal with France for purchase of 36 Rafale jets at an estimated cost of Rs 58,000 crore.