In a press briefing, former Defence Minister and Congress leader, AK Antony, came out with a bizarre justification for delaying the UPA era Rafale deal. In the media interaction, he claimed that it was done in “national interest” and went on to add that the Congress’ negotiation of Rafale deal was better than that of NDA.
Taking potshot at NDA government, AK Antony cited the findings of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report and stated, “I delayed the deal to protect the national interest. The Prime Minister sacrificed our national interests.” Now the question that arises here is how the delay in the acquisition of fifth-generation fighter jets for a severely depleted Air Force fleet could be in national interest. Not only the latest statement of AK Antony is in complete contradiction with his statement in 2014 when he had said that the UPA government had no money to go forward with the deal but it is also incredulous on how the delay in the acquisition is commendable.
Not to forget that India needs a total of 42 squadrons of IAF to guard northern and western borders of India. In 2016, IAF de-commissioned 3 squadrons of MiG-21, which reduced the number of squadrons from 34 to 31, but later a squadron of Russian made Su-30 MKI was added and the number finally reached to 32. Each squadron has 16 to 18 fighter jets. Another important fact is by 2020 IAF will lose another 14 squadrons of the vintage MiG-21s and MiG-27s.
For now, the air-defence of India is dependent on Su-30 MKI and MiG 29s, the British-made Jaguar and French-made Mirage 2000s. Further, the Jaguars are being upgraded by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). For a long time, it is being planned to plug the operational gaps by inducting 36 Rafale fighters and with indigenously made Tejas fighters. However, Tejas had been under manufacturing for 3 decades and only 40 jets are operational ready and the acquisition of Rafale was delayed in “national interest”. Moreover, out of 40, only 20 are IOC (Initial Operational Clearance) ready and the other 20 are FOC (Final Operational Clearance) ready. It seems that IAF has been strategically undermined by the Congress governments over the years.
Also Read: How Congress governments undermined the Indian Air Force
So the claims of these “national interest” are nothing but an escape goat for the delay of the Congress party in finalizing of the Rafale deal during UPA-II regime. Despite negotiations for nearly 10 years during UPA government, Rafale deal was not finalised and vague excuses like shortage of funds were given by the then Defence Minister, whereas NDA government finalised the deal within 2 years. Now, who should be ashamed? It seems that the blame game is the only way for the Congress party to stay relevant in the current political scenario.