RAFALE DEAL MAY BE CONGRESS’S NEXT WEAPON TO TARGET MODI GOVT

INDIA TO BUY 36 RAFALE FIGHTER

NEW DELHI (TIP): Congress is likely to probe the government on how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement to buy 36 Rafale fighters reconciles with his “Make in India” objective, seeking to get back at the Centre by painting the deal with France as a compromise on manufacturing.

Sources said party vice president Rahul Gandhi has suggested that Congress focus on the blow the Rafale deal may give to local manufacturing. In contrast, UPA’s deal had put a condition that 108 of the 126 fighters would be manufactured in India. While BJP too espoused “Make in India” in weapons acquisitions, the decision to buy 36 planes off-the-shelf has raised doubts, claim Congress men.

Congress has been mulling ways of raising the issue in Parliament but is hobbled by the absence of details.

Former defence minister AK Antony is learnt to have told the party that it may be premature to touch the subject because there is still no agreement between India and France and that Modi’s much-feted announcement of a government-to-government sale earlier this month in Paris remains more an expression of intent.

If the 90 remaining fighters are also purchased directly, the local manufacturing component would be dead, claim Congressmen.

Antony’s opinion was cited during a strategy session when Rafale subject came up. However, sources said, Rahul suggested that the party could focus on “Make in India” to seek a response from government.

Since UPA had ensured a built-in condition that 108 would be manufactured by HAL with technology transfer, it is argued the course taken by the Modi regime could end the possibility of local assembling.

A final decision on the issue may be taken at the Political Affairs Committee that comprises Congress MPs from Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.

The intent would be to show that the Centre was failing in delivering on its promises despite grand slogans.

However, the limited focus on Rafale deal being a blow to “Make in India”, if also technology transfer, falls short of the indignation in Congress over the way Modi regime has slammed UPA over defence acquisition.

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar blamed Antony for delay in buying the fighters, suggesting the direct buy from France was a consequence of UPA’s failure to clinch the deal.

A senior Congress manager alleged there was no transparency in the new deal, but agreed that absence of an agreement was restraining the party from raising the issue strongly. “The role of HAL in Rafale is under serious doubt now. The government would have to clarify it,” he said.

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