NEW DELHI: The parliamentary standing committee on defence saw a heated exchange between Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and panel chairman Jual Oram on Thursday after Gandhi demanded to know from the government why it had pared down an order of 126 Rafale fighter jets to 36, and how it proposed to “compensate” for the loss, especially in the face of the joint aggression India was facing at the hands of the Chinese and Pakistani armed forces.
Sources said Oram stopped Gandhi from asking questions about the LAC situation and Rafale aircraft persistently and said they were “out of context”. However, Gandhi continued after insisting that his queries related to defence purchases, well within the mandate of the discussion on the Demand for Grants for the defence ministry.
Later, however, Oram agreed to Gandhi’s request for a separate, more detailed discussion on the LAC situation and China. He said a separate meeting will be convened after the discussions on budgetary allocations are completed.
A ruling party MP, however, said Gandhi’s arguments were invalid since India is “fully equipped for limited engagement” and numerical comparisons of aircraft is “meaningless” in light of the nuclear capability of all three nations. “We are capable enough to defend ourselves in a two-front war. People should not forget that we are also a nuclear capable nation with strategic assets,” he said.
The discussion, which followed a presentation by the Indian Army and Air Force officials on their joint preparedness at the LAC and vis-à-vis India’s aggressive neighbours on the East and West, China and Pakistan, also saw the CDS tell the House panel that India is building combat aircraft capacity indigenously, both at DRDO and at HAL. Rawat, sources said, also told the panel that HAL has been commissioned to build heavy combat aircraft, expected to be rolled out by 2023.
While Gandhi sought to know what India would do in the interim, another panel member sought to know why HAL, which was deemed “unfit” by the government to “even carry out repairs on Rafale fighter jets” till two years ago was now being entrusted with the job of building combat aircraft for the Indian armed forces. Sources said he also asked why the government did not award HAL contracts for assembly, repair and maintenance of the Rafale fighter jets.
During Thursday’s meeting, several MPs also raised the issue of inadequate budgetary allocations to the Defence ministry, asserting that the percentage of allocation to both the Indian Army and Air Force had been reduced in percentage terms in comparison to 2014. The defence secretary, however, assured the panel that the ministry will get additional allocations as per requirements.