New Delhi: Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday slammed the Congress party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for stalling the Rafale deal and consequently putting India's national security at risk.
In an exclusive interview with ANI, Jaitley said that the need to upgrade the existing fleet of fighter jets arose in 2001, two years post the Kargil war with Pakistan. He further said that the UPA government, which came into power in 2004, had shortlisted bids and selected the France-based Dassault Aviation-manufactured Rafale jets in 2007.
"For some reason, that indecisive government then turned around and said it needs to be re-examined and facts have to be reconsidered and then put it in the cold storage. India's security was compromised," Jaitley said.
"Why did you indefinitely delay it? Why did you abandon it? Did you not seriously compromise India's national security when you did this?" Jaitley added.
Jaitley further stated that the number of squadrons India had were being depleted because of the aircraft being old, and the 12-15 year delay caused due to the Congress compounded India's problems.
Thus the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government decided to purchase 36 fully equipped aircraft to give the Indian Air Force (IAF) its long-awaited aerial superiority, he said adding that the government bought the jets on a better term than the one agreed to by the Congress in 2007.
Upon being questioned if the national security is vulnerable at this stage, Jaitley said, "I won't use the word vulnerable. It is not vulnerable in the absence (of the jets); we have done extremely well in our wars even before that. I think it will be further enhanced. So the object is that with the combat ability being enhanced, the situation for our forces will be much better."
The Congress party has long been targeting the BJP government, alleging them of paying much more per jet than the deal they had agreed to. On August 18, Congress President Rahul Gandhi had constituted a six-member task force to look into the alleged scam.
The Congress is also set to make the Rafale deal one of their primary agendas for the 2019 general election campaign. They are holding district-wise protests and conducting at least 100 press conferences to reach out to the general public and make them aware of the deal.