Congress president Rahul Gandhi yesterday took the Rafale battle to the doors of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, and said the government has “insulted, hurt and destroyed” the future of the public sector company by depriving it of the offset contract with the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault.
In an hour-long interaction with about 100 former and present employees of HAL, who were asked by the management to keep away from the meeting, Gandhi also questioned the credibility and the experience of the private company that got the Rs300bn offset contract.
Gandhi said firms such as HAL, Indian Space Research Organisation and the Defence Research and Development Organisation were the “temples of modern India” which were being “destroyed” by the government that was indulging in corruption.
“A very senior person in the government has raised questions over the ‘capacity’ of HAL. I ask them as to what is the capacity of Anil Ambani’s company that has got the contract? What exactly is the experience this person has (in aeronautics)? The HAL’s capabilities are all in front of us. You (HAL) have built HF-24, MiGs, Sukhoi and Tejas. The public sector is the backbone of the country and the defence sector,” Gandhi said.
The opposition leader said it was “completely ridiculous” to say that HAL does not have any experience. The person who got the contract has zero experience.
“Does HAL have debt? No. But the person who got the contract has Rs45,000 crore debt,” he added.
“You are the only company with the requisite experience to build that aircraft (Rafale). You are the people who built Tejas, MiG, Sukhoi. How can anybody say that you are not experienced? The forces trying to take away your future are quite powerful, quite connected,” he said, adding that concerted efforts would be needed to save HAL and other public sector companies.
“I have come to give a message that we are going to protect your future. We are going to fight for your rights. Rafale is your right. The decision (to give offset contract) should be done only on merit. Nobody in the world who thinks objectively and takes decisions on merit can take away the offset contract from HAL.”
Gandhi said when the Congress comes to power at the Centre its government would ensure that HAL got more orders to make aircraft. “We will not allow this government or anyone to destroy HAL or take away orders from it.”
Referring to the circular asking employees to keep away from the interaction with him, Gandhi said the management must have been under “pressure” from the government but “we are fighting for you too”.
He said the HAL fraternity has been insulted and hurt. “Their hard work of the last 78 years, their patriotism, has been insulted and questioned by the government through the Defence Ministry. The gentleman who has got the contract has worked only for 12 days. The temples of modern India are being destroyed,” the Congress president said.
Taking a jibe at the media, he said: “You (HAL employees) called me here because you feel the media is not listening to your voice. But media does not listen even to us these days. The media bosses don’t want these types of conversations.”
Gandhi said he was 100% with the employees of defence public sector undertakings and told them they were free to call him anytime 24/7 to voice their grievances.
Replying to questions by reporters on Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman saying that the government of India had no role in deciding the offset partner, the Congress chief said the defence minister was “lying”.
“The former president of France (Francois Hollande) has said that the government of India told him to give the contract to Ambani. Documentation has also come out that Dassault has said this.”
Before interacting with the employees, Gandhi said: “We are in opposition but if there is something we can do to help you we would like to do it. When we come to government we would like to do even more aggressively.”
Mirajuddin, a former trade union leader of HAL, said the company was capable of manufacturing Rafale in India and they were agitated over the offset contract going to a private company.
“We felt let down...we were not only surprised but felt insulted. We are not begging. We are demanding that our rights based on merit should be protected,” he said.
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