Congress President Rahul Gandhi has been going hammer-and-tongs after the government over alleged impropriety in the Rafale fighter-jets deal, but even the UPA Defence Ministers in the past have refused to share details of defense deals in Parliament.
Rahul Gandhi’s attack came a day after Nirmala Sitharaman refused to share details of the Rafale deal on the grounds of a security agreement between India and France in 2008.
Nirmala Sitharaman in a written reply said, “As per ‘Article-10’ of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) between Government of India and Government of France on the purchase of Rafale aircraft, the protection of the classified information and material exchanged under IGA is governed by the provisions of the Security Agreement signed between the two nations in 2008.”
Her response was to a written question in Rajya Sabha by Samajwadi Party member Naresh Agrawal, who had asked whether the government did not want to disclose in public domain the agreement between India and France for purchasing the aircraft.
In a statement the Centre called the demand to ‘disclose the details and value of the contract as unrealistic, pointing out that the UPA government had done the same’.
The press release further stated: “The demand that the Government discloses the details and value of the contract for the Rafale aircraft contracted in 2016 are unrealistic. [In keeping with confidentiality requirements, the UPA Government had also expressed its inability to disclose the price of various defense procurements, including in its responses to Parliament Questions]. The approximate acquisition cost of the Rafale aircraft has already been provided to the Parliament.
Provision of exact item-wise cost and other information will reveal, inter alia, details regarding the various customizations and weapons systems specially designed to augment the effectiveness and lethality of the assets, impact our military preparedness and compromise our national security. Such details would also come under the ambit of the security agreement signed in 2008. Thus, in not revealing the item-wise details of the contract, the Government is merely following in letter and spirit the confidentiality provisions of a bilateral India-France Agreement of 2008 signed by the previous Government.”
At least in two instances in the past, the UPA governments have refused to reveal details of purchases made. On December 14, 2005, erstwhile Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, had replied to Rajya Sabha member, the late Janeshwar Mishra of SP in a question about Talks with American Companies Selling Weapon Systems.
The MoD had said the details were classified in nature and it would not be the national interest to divulge details on the floor of the house.
Again in 2007, on a question about whether the UPA-1 had purchased weapons from Israel, Defence Minister AK Antony had remarked the same thing saying it would not be in the interest of national security.
Of course, that’s not the norm and there have been instances when prices have been revealed. In fact, someone forgot to tell Nirmala Sitharaman that in 2016 the government had revealed the cost per aircraft in Lok Sabha.
On November 18, 2016, Junior Minister for Defence Subhash Bhamre had stated in Lok Sabha: “IGA with the Government of France has been signed on September 23, 2016, for a purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft along with requisite equipment, services, and weapons. The cost of each Rafale aircraft is approximately Rs 670 crore and all the aircraft will be delivered by April 2022.”
Similarly, in 2013 like when AK Anthony shared the prices of the Mirage 2000 aircraft.
Perhaps it would’ve been wiser to wait and watch before attacking the Centre over the refusal to divulge details, particularly since the UPA Defence Ministers had done the same things.
Of course, given the length of time that Congress-led governments have ruled this country, finding a precedent of a political move isn’t very hard.