Union minister and former Indian Army chief General VK Singh has questioned the capabilities of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited o manufacture aircraft. The minister made the remark on Wednesday in response to the Congress’s claim that the government had ignored the company while signing the Rafale deal with France, PTI reported.

“Look at the condition of HAL,” the minister of state for external affairs told reporters in Pune. “Our two pilots died. Sorry to say, but the programmes at HAL are running late by three-and-a-half years...parts of aircraft are falling off on the runway. Is this capability? On the other hand, we say that HAL is not getting the [Rafale] work.”

Singh was referring to the crash of a Mirage 2000 trainer fighter aircraft near the HAL airport in Bengaluru on February 1 in which two pilots were killed.

The Congress has claimed that Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group was chosen instead of Hindustan Aeronautics for an offset contract in the Rafale deal because of favouritism by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party has said that Ambani’s company did not have the experience in the field. The government has pointed out that Dassault Aviation, the jets’ manufacturer, chose Reliance.

“In Rafale case, it is the French who decided the offset firm,” Singh said. “The objective of the offset is to allow the industry to thrive here...if their firm is not satisfied with HAL, it is their decision...it is not the decision of the Indian government.”

He said matters related to national security should not be politicised. “It was necessary to purchase these 36 [Rafale] aircraft as the capabilities of the Indian Air force were depleting,” the minister added. “If we keep pulling each other’s legs, we will cause a major loss to the defence of the nation.”