New Delhi: With the government under attack from the Opposition on the Rafale issue, the top security brass briefed the Union Council of Ministers on Wednesday on the fighter aircraft deal with France, saying that its cost is based on equipment and weapons that will be integrated into the jet.
The presentation was made in a bid to provide the leaders with facts to counter the allegations of favouritism and corruption being levelled against the government.
A senior government functionary said National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Secretary, Defence Production, Ajay Kumar highlighted various aspects of the deal in the meeting, which lasted more than two-and-a-half hours.
The ministers were informed that it was a deal between two governments involving no private party, leaving little scope for corruption.
The security brass also highlighted the aircraft’s capability which would strengthen the Indian Air Force and make the fighter jets an asset for it.
Opposition parties led by the Congress have been attacking the Modi government over the deal, alleging that it was struck at an exorbitant price and benefited an Indian businessman at the cost of the government-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The charges have been denied by the government.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while refusing to get into the details of what transpired in the meeting, took a dig at the Congress and its chief Rahul Gandhi over the fighter jet deal.
Responding to a question, he said, “Congress has proved that in a dynastic party, ignorance is contagious… if one lacks information, all are ignorant.”
Jaitley said questioning the deal is the “biggest ignorance”. He said a basic aircraft is of “no use” as it can only fly the pilot. He said cost escalation and currency variations between 2007 and 2016 have to be considered.
He also pointed out that a weaponised jet is 20 per cent cheaper now after the negotiations. Since it is a government-to-government deal, no private party or a PSU is involved.
“The 36 jets will come in a fly away condition and not even a bolt will be fitted here … during UPA (rule), they did not believe in transfer of technology but preferred to buy (hardware) from foreign buyers …,” he said.
Referring to Bofors howitzer gun deal, he said while bribes can be taken, the weapons could not be manufactured here.
Jaitley said after increasing FDI to 49 per cent several international defence major are tying up with Indian companies to manufacture defence hardware here.
He said the government has also ensured that defence PSUs get sufficient orders. He said side by side the government also believes in helping the private sector.
The functionary, meanwhile, said the presentation in the meeting also underscored Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to take all his allies, who are represented in the council of ministers, on board, as the government works to counter the opposition on the issue in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections which are less than eight months away.
The presentation was made before the ministers and BJP leaders, who will reach out to the people all across the country on the achievements of the government under a week-long campaign.
Separate presentations were also made on the government’s ambitious ‘Ayushman Bharat’ mission, a health insurance cover for the poor, and ‘Swachh Bharat’ (clean India) project.