Why not same rules for Rafale and AK-103 assault rifles, asks Congress

The Congress on Wednesday charged the Narendra Modi government with adopting “double standards” on defence pacts and asked why it did not apply the same yardstick in the Rafale deal with France that it did with Russia’s move to grant a contract to a private firm to make AK-103 assault rifles.

“A fallacious argument of the Modi government on the Rafale scam has been nipped in the bud, by its own recent negotiations in another defence deal, which is the AK-rifle deal with Russia,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters.

“The argument given was that the Rafale deal was a government-to-government agreement and the Modi dispensation had absolutely no role in facilitating the R30,000 crore offset contract to a private company,” he added.

Citing media reports, Singhvi said it has been revealed that defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman reportedly turned down a Russian request to make another private Indian entity (the Adani Group) its partner for the joint manufacture of Rs 3,000 crore worth of AK-103 assault rifles for the Indian army.

The Congress leader claimed the government reportedly advised Russia that its firm Kalashnikov Concern tie up with the state-run Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) if it wanted its locally made AK-103 assault rifles to be considered by the defence ministry.

“Why did it not apply the same yardsticks in the Rafale scam? Why did Modi government not advise Dassault Aviation to negotiate further with government-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL),” he said.

Responding to this in the course of his media briefing, finance minister Arun Jaitley said: “I consider Abhishek Singhvi a scholar and a fine lawyer, but what is this logic? There are 36 planes coming in from there. Nothing will be done in India. In the case of the Russian guns transaction, it will all be built here. These are two completely different transactions.” He added that the entire policy of the current government was to ensure that defence manufacturing was encouraged in India and defence public sector undertakings got adequate orders, besides giving space to private players. “It is regressive thinking of the Congress that we can buy from foreign firms but not allow Indian firms to get in. We differ with that.”

On Rafale, Jaitley said that the “basic aircraft price itself is 9% cheaper under the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) than it was under the UPA (United Progressive Alliance)”. He said that with add-ons meant for India-specific adaptations of the fighter and the weaponry, installed on the basic aircraft, the UPA’s price would be at least 20% costlier. In his media conference, Singhvi credited the opposition parties for what he saw as a change in guidelines.

The NDA’s decision to enter a $8.7 billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later. This replaced the previous UPA regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. The deal has become controversial with the opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is Rs 1,670 crore for each, three times the Rs 526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL.

The NDA has not disclosed details of the price, but former defence minister Manohar Parrikar previously said the UPA deal, struck in 2012, was not a viable one. Indeed, the UPA was not able to close the deal till 2014, largely over discussions related to pricing of items not included in the initial bid. The NDA has said that the current deal also includes customised weaponry.

The deal has become controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress says the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani the opportunity for the deal. Both the government and Reliance have repeatedly denied this.

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