TN firms should make long-term plans for defence manufacture: Nirmala Sitharaman

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Congress Vice president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday targeted Defence Minister Nirmala Seetharaman on Rafale deal, saying it is "shameful" that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is silencing her on revealing details.

She said the decision to strengthen the Air Force was taken by the Vajpayee government back in 2000 but the Congress-led coalition, the UPA, which came to power in 2004, could not seal the deal over the next decade.

He remains focused on Modi's personal corruption dug out by his party as he wants to use the charge of compromising the national security just to help "one businessman" in the Gujarat elections.

Asked if French Defence Minister Florence Parly raised the issue of purchase of more Rafale fighter jets during her visit to India last month, Sitharaman replied in the affirmative.

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The minister also rubbished allegations of procedural violations, stating the Rafale deal was signed with "the Cabinet Committee on Security in the loop" and her predecessor Manohar Parrikar's active participation.

Rahul also took pot shots at PM Modi over the Rafale deal on Twitter saying, "Can you explain "Reliance" on someone with nil experience in aerospace for Rafale deal?" His reference was to Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence Limited that tied up with the French firm Dassault in October previous year for a joint venture to produce the Rafale aircraft. "The price we arrived at is lesser", she said. "The government has negotiated a very good deal".

The minister, flanked by defence secretary Sanjay Mitra and IAF deputy chief Air Marshal R Nambiar at a press conference in South Block on Friday, said the cost negotiated per aircraft by the NDA government was "much lower" than what was being negotiated by the UPA government after Rafale had emerged as the L-1 (lowest bidder) in the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) competition. "Twelve long years of negotiations and still (there was) no decision, although critically recognising the need for strengthening the Air Force", said Sitharaman.

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