Senior Congress leader and former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram has said his party will not scrap the Rafale fighter jet deal if it forms government after the Lok Sabha elections this year. The number of aircraft bought through the deal and the schedule for their delivery are the “most critical issues”, he told The Indian Express in an interview published on Thursday.
“We [Congress-led government] are the ones who chose the Rafale aircraft,” he said. “Why should we scrap the Rafale aircraft? Rafale is a good aircraft. We want that aircraft. In fact, if the Congress comes to power, it will explore how you can buy 126 Rafale aircraft, ask for quicker delivery, and bolster the Air Force.”
He said the party would looking into matters such as pricing, delivery schedule and India-specific enhancements to figure out if the configuration is the same as had been agreed upon by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliancec government.
In 2015, the Narendra Modi government had announced that India would buy 36 Rafale jets in a government-to-government deal with France instead of the 126 aircraft that had earlier been negotiated by the Congress-led government. The Congress has accused the current government of signing an overpriced deal and also favouring one of businessman Anil Ambani’s company for the offset obligations of the deal.
A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, which was tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, said the deal signed in 2016 by the Narendra Modi government was 2.86% cheaper than the offer made to the Congress government in 2007. The Opposition party, however, dismissed it as an “eyewash”.
In his interview, Chidambaram said he was not in favour of taking the matter to the judiciary. The Congress has consistently sought an investigation by a Parliamentary committee. The party did not petition the Supreme Court last year even as some others did. In December, the Supreme Court rejected the petitioners’ demand for an independent inquiry into the agreement.
“It is not a matter which is amenable to judicial resolution,” Chidambaram said. “I have never believed that court is the forum to resolve these issues. This penchant of approaching court is something which I have never believed, never accepted. These are matters which are world over under the jurisdiction of the Parliament.”
Chidambaram said his party asked sharp and specific questions of the government, but did not get clear answers. “Instead of that we get abuse, ‘you are a dynast, you are a liar’,” he added. “Is that an answer to questions?”