Nirmala Sitharaman, the current defence minister of India is presently all over the news for her opinionated views on a plethora of topics. The latest is her comment on the Rafale deal, which is being touted as the “biggest defence scam” in the history of the country by the opposition. She said, “Congress is a part of an international anti-Modi plot”.
On JNU and forces “waging war against India”
Herself a JNU alumnus, defence minister kicked off a storm after she said, “There are forces which are waging war against India and it is they who are also seen with elected representatives of the students union. That makes me feel uneasy.” This statement was in reference to candidates backed by Left groups winning all the key posts.
She also said that things which have happened over the last few years were “not encouraging at all” and that they were led by anti-India forces.
Her remark reminds of the anti-national debate which was widely propagated by various media houses and politicians, 2 and a half years ago. It was claimed that in an event, protestors raised slogans against the country. Even after the forensic report confirmed that the videos showing the same were doctored, the propaganda refused to die down and became part of a widely accepted narrative. This demonised JNU and the students studying there,
The whole propaganda not only smeared students like Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid but also demonised JNU, initiating attacks on them. The recent comment of the defence minister only adds fuel to the fire against India’s top institution.
“If they cut two heads, we will cut ten”
Sitharaman appeared on the India TV’s “Aap Ki Adalat” which was broadcasted on September 15. Anchor Rajat Sharma asked about the Pakistan issue and claims made by BJP leaders during 2014 elections of avenging deaths of Indian soldiers, saying, “Chunav ke dauran kehte hain ki woh do sir katenge to hum dus sir kat ke layenge. Lekin ab to dus to nahin kat rahein (During the election campaign, you people had said that if they cut two heads, we will cut ten heads. But ten heads are not really being cut now).” Sitharaman replied that heads are being cut, but are not being displayed.
This is the first time that a defence Minister holding such an important office has made a public statement that Indian Army has cut off heads of Pakistani soldiers. What makes it problematic is the fact that it stands as a direct violation of the Geneva Convention and international norms to which India has pledged its adherence.
It is to be noted that India herself raised strong objections against the mutilation of bodies of Indian soldiers at the hands of the Pakistani army in 2013 and this very Geneva convention was quoted then. On the other hand, Pakistan, which has been time and again accused of barbaric treatment meted out to captured Indian soldiers has never publically admitted to beheading them.
Twitter banter with Rahul Gandhi
Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a jibe at PM Modi after former French President Francois Hollande said that Indian govt proposed Reliance name for Rafale deal, we didn’t have a say in this (This was later denied Dassault Aviation).
He tweeted a video of a French media and captioned it “The sad truth about India’s Commander in Thief”.
The sad truth about India's Commander in Thief. pic.twitter.com/USrxqlJTWe
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) September 24, 2018
The thief remarked was termed to be in bad taste and derogatory by many. A few days earlier too, in a rally in Udaipur district, he called PM Modi “chor” (thief). While Gandhi’s remark was unsavoury, Sitharaman decided to retaliate in a similar manner by using a Twitter tag #RahulKaPuraKhandanChor (Rahul Gandhi’s whole family is a thief).
The @INCIndia & Shri. @RahulGandhi repeat untruth several times and use brazen & abusive language about @PMOIndia @narendramodi. They betray their sense of desperation in being out-of-power. In our govt there is no corruption. No wonder today the buzz is #RahulKaPuraKhandanChor https://t.co/o76HiaYtDh
— Nirmala Sitharaman (@nsitharaman) September 22, 2018
The exchange appeared nothing more than a childish banter, which these politicians who command a great following could have easily avoided. It only lowers down the respective positions they are holding.
“HAL was in no position to give the guarantee”
On September 13, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that state-owned aerospace and defence company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) did not have the required capability to build Rafale jets in collaboration with the French company Dassault Aviation.
She said, “Dassault could not progress in the negotiations with HAL because if the aircraft were to be produced in India, a guarantee for the product to be produced was to be given. It is a big ticket item and the IAF would want the guarantee for the jets. HAL was in no position to give the guarantee.”
Sitharaman also said that negotiations for procurement of these jets failed during the UPA government because of the then Defence Minister AK Antony’s “unprecedented intervention” in 2013 in the cost negotiation which put the “final nail in the coffin”. Sitharaman did say that she had no intention of undermining HAL, however, she said that the then defence minister had failed to supply the promised resources to HAL.
This was possibly the first time that the Defence Minister of India had publically voiced her doubts over state-owned HAL which has been for over half a century involved in design, fabrication and assembly of aircraft. It is not okay for the Defence Minister to make such a disparaging comment against the 78-yr-old PSU publicly.
Nirmala Sitharaman’s misleading statements on Rafale
France’s former President Francois Hollande unleashed fresh controversy after he said that New Delhi had pressured Dassault on naming Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Defence as the local partner in the deal. As reported by Le Monde, Hollande said that Reliance Group’s name came up as a part of a “new formula” in the Rafale deal which was decided upon when Modi government came to power. This directly contradicts Modi government’s stand that it had nothing to do with choosing the offset partner for the deal and also Sitharaman’s comment that former Defence Minister AK Antony’s “unprecedented intervention” put a halt to the deal in 2013.
However, both French Ministry of European and Foreign Affairs and Dassault Aviation said that choosing Reliance group as the local partner was Dassault’s own decision. It is important to note here that Reliance Defence was formed just 12 days before the new deal was struck by the Modi government.
Reacting to the statement made by Hollande, Sitharaman said this was a perception war and called it a false propaganda. She also suggested that Rahul Gandhi’s tweet on August 31 which said that “big bunker buster bombs” will be dropped in coming weeks and Hollande’s remarks days after that pointed to a possible collusion. “The tweet and his [Mr. Hollande] comment soon after can’t be a coincidence after all. Now you see, there is an international dimension too,” she said, as reported by The Hindu.
Globalised corruption. This #Rafale aircraft really does fly far and fast! It's also going to drop some big bunker buster bombs in the next couple of weeks.
Modi Ji please tell Anil, there is a big problem in France. https://t.co/tvL7HMBPFN
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 31, 2018
However, no supporting proofs were furnished by Sitharaman in her claims.
It is a matter of concern that a minister who is holding such an important post is making such statements and disparaging remarks without proof, notwithstanding the decorum and sanctity of the office.