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Speakers discuss deal, want to know why HAL was left out and how cost of aircraft increased four-fold, while government takes credit for landing it

A day after former French President Francois Hollande dropped a bombshell by telling a French journal that the Indian government proposed Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as the India partner for the 36 Rafale jet deal and he had no other option but to sign him, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has seized the opportunity to allege that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ambani jointly carried out a Rs 130 crore “surgical strike” on the defence forces by inking the April 10, 2015, pact. More than 12 hours later, Hollande’s office has stood by his statement.

On Saturday, APN’s flagship show, Mudda, examined the various aspects of the deal with Himanshu Dixit leading a discussion between BJP leader Khemchand Sharma, Congressman Brijendra Singh, NCP leader Chandbabu Rehman and journalist Govind Pant Raju.

Sharma began the debate, saying that Hollande’s remarks should be seen in the light of the fact that he is currently in the opposition while Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche! is in office. He added that talks were on with Dassault since 2007 but the UPA government could not bring about the pact and it is all to the Modi government’s credit that it did.

Rehman said that the deal should be seen as a quid pro quo arrangement between Ambani and the government after the Reliance Group offered to set up Aerospace Park in Nagpur. He also mentioned that public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd has been deprived as a result of the deal.

But Singh said it is the Cabinet Committee on Security which decides on defence matter and its last meeting was held on March 13, 2014, in which Dassault was picked over its rival—there were originally six companies who had responded with bids—and there was an agreement between HAL and the French firm to maintain the aircraft as well as manufacture 126 new Rafale’s in India. It was part of a Transfer of Technology (TOT) deal and engineers from HAL were imparted training by Dassault. But HAL was dropped and Reliance given the deal secretively, in breach of all laws and protocol. The CCS never met after that day.

However, Raju said the deal had not actually been signed with HAL and it was reconsidered due to lack of expertise on HAL’s part and fear of manufacturing faulty aircraft that would result in loss of soldiers’ lives.

Singh then countered this saying HAL already manufactured indigenous fighter jets like the Sukhoi, so there could not have been any such doubts, especially after the engineers had been trained. Unfortunately, they are now facing retrenchment.

Raju maintained that the Congress was attacking the Rafale deal only for petty electoral gains. He said the common man will surely see through its ploys.

Rehman then questioned defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s rejection of the demand for a joint parliamentary committee to probe the deal.  Singh, too, said the JPC probe should be held on the count of rejecting HAL’s participation even when the government loudly shouts the “Make in India” slogan and on the count of the four-fold increase of the cost of the deal.

—Compiled by Sucheta Dasgupta

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