Replying to a debate on the Rafale issue in Lok Sabha, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman alleged the Congress ignored national security

New Delhi: Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman sought to take on the Rafale ‘scam’ by its horns, accusing the Congress of wreaking havoc with national security as it “didn’t get the money” in a marathon two-and-a-half-hour reply.

Sitharaman, in her now trademark confrontational approach, took several potshots at the Congress and attempted to corner party president Rahul Gandhi, whom she indicated was an entitled dynast.

“You stopped the deal, forgetting Air Force was suffering. You didn’t conclude the deal, because it didn’t suit you. The deal didn’t get you money,” the minister said in her reply in Lok Sabha.

“They did not intend to buy the aircraft till something else was done. There is something different between defence deal and deal in defence,” she said, asserting that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government gave priority to national security.

Sitharaman said the price of the basic Rafale aircraft being procured by the Modi government is Rs 670 crores, which is nine per cent cheaper than what the UPA deal would have cost. That is Rs 737 crores.

She also hit back at the Congress for dragging in the name of businessman Anil Ambani to accuse the Modi government of corruption. “For every AA, there’s a RV and a Q. RV isn’t our ‘Damaad’, he’s the country’s Damaad,” she said referring to Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra.

The defence minister defended the government’s decision to buy 36 fighter jets under emergency condition saying the IAF always advises governments to buy two squadrons, which is 36 aircraft instead of 18, in case of emergency purchases.

In 1982, when Pakistan was buying F-16s, the Indian government then decided to buy two squadrons of MIG-23 MF from the erstwhile Soviet Union, she said, adding that in 1985, two squadrons of Mirage 2000 were bought from France and in 1987 two squadrons of MiG-29.

Sitharaman also argued that China added 400 aircraft between 2004-15 while Pakistan doubled their F-16s and added 43 JF-17s to its Air Force. She said that India had 33 squadrons in 2015, down from 40 in 2004.

As she continued her attack against the Congress, she also spoke about the Bofors scandal that erupted when the Congress was in power in the 1980s and said, “Bofors was a scam, Rafale is not. It is a decision in national interest. They lost an election because of Bofors. Rafale will bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi back.”

The delivery of first Rafale will happen in 2019, while the last of 36 jets will be delivered in 2022, she added.