Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman answered a wide range of direct questions on the Rafale deal on Tuesday night, putting all the facts on the table like never before, in the #FinalRafaleInterview with Republic TV's Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami.
Answering specifically on the intergovernmental agreement between India and France for the procurement of 36 Dassault-aviation manufactured Rafale jets over which allegations of procedural lapses continue to be made by the Opposition despite the Supreme Court giving the deal the clean chit, Sitharaman said the following, reproduced in a question & answer format:
Q1) Did you do a u-turn on giving the pricing details of Rafale?
No, there was no u-turn. Basic aircraft price has been revealed in Parliament, three times. I said during the vote of no-confidence on the secrecy clause, when you aim to know the details over and above the base price, the secrecy clause kicks in. It (referring to the clause) was signed by my predecessor from the UPA, AK Antony. I have kept my word.
Prices given are for the basic aircraft.
Q2) If you got a cheaper deal, why did you not order more, given that the requirement is on record?
The UPA non-deal was to get 18 flyaway condition aircraft with the rest to be manufactured. Had the Dassault-HAL deal gone through they'd -- 108 aircraft -- would have been manufactured in India.
The 18 in flyaway condition that the UPA wanted, we've actually doubled.
(On the Air Force's requirement:) IAF doesn't just require 126. It probably required 500-600 aircraft of various types, including MMRCAs
IAF doesn't require just 126. It probably required 500-600 aircraft of various types, including MMRCAs. So even your 126 is not the upper limit. Aircrafts are not off the shelf, you don't go to a shop and pick up, the moment you give an order they commence the production for you. So the earliest you can get and the highest number that you can get is 36 because normally emergency purchases by IAF has always been 36. When did we sign the agreement? 2016. From 2016 within three years you are getting the first Aircraft.
Q3) Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had cleared the procurement of 126 jets. Why were requirements tweaked?
The tweaking has only been done as far as flyaway condition jets are concerned. We enhanced 18 to 36, given that 2 years had been spent in them (UPA) going out of office, and us coming into office.
Q4) Will you go after 126 aircraft?
Yes, we've already come up with the RFI. The original manufacturers will now have to come up with their partners.
Q5) Where there configuration changes in the current deal?
I will not give away all the details. We have got a much better deal. Every procedure that is required -- the technical, cost negotiation and other committees -- have had 74 meetings together. Everything has been professionally done.
Q6) Did the government in any way propose Anil Ambani's Reliance as an offset partner? Why else did the former French President Francois Hollande make such a statement?
We did not propose (Reliance as offset partner).
I don't want to join this debate of attributing things to people about what kind of conflict of interest there was. Wasn't it in the newspapers that there was a partner of the former President?
People say 'I've had a word with the former President and he said this...'... is it not necessary - and I'd request the media - you should make the Congress president sit down and tell you when did he meet the former French President and the current President. What was his conversation about? Is there an authentic conversation and were there minutes(-of-meeting) there?
Q7) Do you genuinely believe that the Congress was lobbying for the Eurofighter?
It's worthy of being asked to the Congress president. Today he (Christian Michel) is here facing the law. Media says he had kept records of what was happening in the PMO then and that he was also here to take care of the competitor of the Rafale. Shouldn't it be asked if there was a connection? What was the then government's role? And I'm worried that if the Congress party is unwittingly being used by corporates, MNCs or anyone else in their corporate rivalries? How can you constantly not answer the question as to why you didn't sign the agreement?
I've now answered in several forums, including in Parliament. I've answered every question whether or not they've asked it with any proof.
I'm saying I'm worried and the president of the Congress needs to be made to sit down.
Q8) Why was HAL not chosen for the Rafale contract when the former HAL chief has made a strong case?
How many were we buying? 36. They were also buying 18 from France. For these, there's no building in India. It is only when either UPA or us are talking about the rest -- 108 in our case -- when the question of including HAL comes in.
The former HAL CMD's interview is fairly recent. The interview of Eric Trappier (Dassault CEO) saying it's '95% negotiation done' came in 2015. Did the HAL CMD utter a word then?
Q9) The Anil Ambani question - is it being dumped on the UPA? (the 2012 arrangement citing Reliance Industries)
I have no idea who Dassault had in mind.
Q10) On Anil Ambani's company being newly incorporated when the offset contract was awarded
There are many reports in the media. Dassault can choose anyone, but till they do, I don't know about it. The rules allow original aircraft manufacturers time.
The policy tells them, for offset, they have time. Let them come and tell me.
This is an intergovernmental agreement. India and France are there, and there's a commercial entity called Dassault which is coming through this intergovernmental agreement.
The intergovernmental deal's ownership will be with the current government. The UPA's was a non-deal. I would like you to not get into the Congress narrative. They've not even bought one aircraft.
Q11) Do you take responsibility for the deal, instead of pinning it on the previous government?
Of course. The previous government did nothing in 10 years.
Q12) Why wasn't the deal opened up for fresh bidding? Why didn't you go with the Eurofighter, if it was giving a competitive offer? Why was a 7-year old selection seen as sacrosanct?
10 days after UPA opened the deal and decided that Rafale was the L1, Eurofighter approaches them with a discounted prices. A discounted bid can never be accommodated, it is against the law.
Having discovered L1, is it legitimate for L2 to come and say 'you know price of L1, now let me give you a lower price'?. It's not. It would vitiate the tender process.
Eurofighter is again a manufacturer spread over all of Europe. You're looking at an intergovernmental deal. Dassault is in France. (That's not the only answer, she adds). But there's a greater legitimacy to L1 rather than someone who approaches repeatedly with discounted prices.
Q13) Did you amend the offset guidelines in the final hours?
Which guidelines are you referring to? The agreement was signed in 2016 and the offset guidelines, which says the private companies can also be brought in, was also amended in 2013.
The offset guidelines don't just apply to one deal. They apply to so much procurement and each has concerned offsets. So if amendments are made, it would affect all procurements.
Q14) Why is there no sovereign guarantee from France?
You're right in asking. This particular sovereign guarantee or letter of comfort has been signed by the PM of France himself. The intergovernmental agreement is legally binding.
(Do we open up to risk?)
Who can backstab you? It's a government-to-government deal. This isn't the first time a government has purchased arms from another government without a sovereign guarantee. We've done it with Russia. Mulayam Singh's and Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji's purchases were done without sovereign guarantee. Isn't a government-to-government deal a sovereign guarantee?
Q15) Why are you not open to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC)?
First problem is this - the SC has gone through this case. What was the issue before the writ was put before the court? They wanted price, process and partner assessed. The court went through it and for each it said there is no reason to doubt - I have read it in Parliament.
Other times, such as in AgustaWestland, the media had come up with substantial evidence that there was something wrong. This time, Jaitley ji has answered, Parrikar ji has answered.
Sleepless nights should be for (Rahul Gandhi) for having started this campaign of falsehoods. For having rushed into this campaign, without having purchased a single aircraft in 10 years, having left the IAF high-and-dry.
Eminent Congress leader Veerappa Moily called the IAF chief a liar. Has anyone in India insulted the Air chief like that, just for saying that the Rafale is a good aircraft. They've called everyone a liar. They let the IAF down, and allowed the depletion to accelerate.
Q16) On the personal battle with Rahul Gandhi (regarding her middle-class background)
When I stood there and said that I come from a middle-class family, I don't want someone with a khandaan backing calling me a jhooti, a chor. People in Congress have dug up my father-in-law being a Congress minister. At the time of my marriage he had died. I had not even had a fortune of meeting him. I've always spoken with great regard for my mother-in-law, she was very encouraging when I entered politics. Let the Congress party look into their backgrounds -- it was a family that spent its own money to be in politics. They were freedom fighters that time in the CPI and had shoot-at-sight orders against them. Post Nehru asking they joined the mainstream. They live a very ordinary middle-class life. They don't have properties in Himachal Pradesh, in London, their Daamaadjis aren't fantastically well off.
I don't derive any benefit from saying I hail from the middle-class.
Rafale is on people's mind because despite all the facts the falsehood is going on unabated. The facts are all now available.