Congress 'brazenly misleading' nation on Rafale: Sitharaman

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Mumbai, Oct 25  Re-emphasizing ruling BJP government's complete transparency in defence-related matters, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday attacked the opposition Congress for "brazenly misleading" the nation on the Rafale fighter jet deal.

"The allegations the Congress is making are baseless. The rules, which were essentially framed during their (UPA government) period, very clearly tell me one thing -- they are misleading the nation brazenly," she said addressing the Economic India Summit-2018, in Mumbai.

Pointing out that all the doubts and questions raised by opposition parties have already been answered, Sitharaman charged them with changing the 'milepost' repeatedly.

"We have not ducked any questions... nor tried to deter them (opposition) from asking, because we are answering the questions.. They are moving from one milepost to another," she said.

Defending the fighter aircraft deal with France's Dassault Aviation, Sitharaman said: "First the Opposition started with the price of the basic aircraft, then price with ammunition, all of it being compared to the aircraft they apparently bought, God knows when... then moved onto the offset policy which was during their time."

On the offset contract awarded to Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence group, which has kicked up a controversy, Sitharaman repeated that the selection of an offset partner was "a commercial decision made by the original equipment maker" and that "it was their business."

She said defence procurement has always been very complicated and time-consuming because it is not very black-and-white -- "they can remain opaque" -- creating suspicions in the minds of people.

However, the minister emphasised the government had brought in more transparency in defence deals and the systems, discarding everything that is discretionary, and is policy-driven.

On the recent agreement with Russia to procure S-400 air defence missile system, she said Russia has been an ally of India for several decades. "For us to be strong, it needs the kind of equipment to keep its armed forces at a level of preparedness."

"India keeps its options for acquiring (defence) resources very varied. India has also been procuring equipment from the US. I am happy the Americans are able to understand that India has to be strong. They have renamed their Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific Command," she said.


IANS