Why did Modi opt to buy 36 Rafale jets instead of 126 if he had negotiated a better deal: Antony

Prime Minister is unforgivably guilty of compromising with national security by unilaterally deciding to purchase 36 jets, says former defence minister

By Our Special Correspondent in New Delhi
  • Published 19.09.18
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AK Antony at the news conference in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)

New Delhi: Former defence minister A.K. Antony on Tuesday asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi opted for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets instead of 126, as agreed by the Congress dispensation, if he had negotiated a better deal at a lower price.

The veteran Congress leader said at a news conference: "In 2000, the Indian Air Force (IAF) said during the (rule of the) then NDA government that they required at least 126 fighter aircraft for defence preparedness. The Prime Minister is unforgivably guilty of compromising with national security by unilaterally deciding to purchase 36 jets. If he got it cheaper, why not 126 or more?"

Antony said the price of the Rafale jets should have been substantially lower because there is no transfer of technology in the new deal, but added that according to information available with him, "the Modi government bought them at a substantially higher price".

"Rafale has become a national debate because we are saying something and the government is denying it. Why not place all the facts in the public domain, or accept a joint parliamentary committee probe?" the former defence minister asked.

He asserted that the Prime Minister had no authority to decide on his own the number of aircraft to be purchased, and that by doing so he had seriously jeopardised national security.

"As per the Defence Procurement Procedures, the Defence Acquisition Council - headed by the defence minister and including the army chief, air force chief, navy chief, defence secretary, secretary of defence finance, DRDO chief, Coast Guard chief the secretary of defence production - is the only authorised body to decide the number and clear the tender. What Modi did was a clear violation of the DPP," Antony said.

Pointing out that the negotiations to buy the Rafale jets were in the final stage when the UPA demitted office and that the order could not be placed only because the IAF wanted the lifecycle cost to be included in the contract, the Congress leader said: "Under that deal, 18 jets were to come in 'fly-away condition' with the remaining 108 aircraft being manufactured in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. Nobody transfers state-of-the-art technology in normal circumstances, but India missed the opportunity to get it because of Modi's new deal."

Antony described the decision to place a new order for the jets without cancelling the ongoing process as a violation of norms.

"Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman has tarnished the image of HAL internationally by questioning its capability. I don't know what was her motive. If HAL does not have the required capability, please let us know which company in India has the capability to manufacture fighter aircrafts?" he asked.

Antony recalled that HAL had been a profit-making company with ample cash reserves, but it had to take a loan of Rs 1,000 crore from various banks for the first time to sustain its finances in the Modi regime.

On the claim that the government will purchase 110 additional fighter aircraft with "transfer of technology and Make in India" clauses, Antony said: "If the deal goes through now, the aircraft shall not arrive in India before 2030. It would have been better had the government stuck to the UPA-negotiated deal of 126 Rafale aircraft and not compromised India's national security."