At HAL, Rahul steps up Rafale at­tack

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - HTNATION - Vikram Gopal let­ters@hin­dus­tan­

BENGALURU VISIT Calls HAL a strate­gic as­set to which In­dia is in­debted; for­mer em­ployee says ‘we are ca­pa­ble of man­u­fac­tur­ing Rafale’ I can see HAL’S ca­pa­bil­i­ties here, I can see 78 years of your work… You have a his­tory...

RAHUL GANDHI, Congress pres­i­dent

BENGALURU: Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi reached out on Satur­day to em­ploy­ees of Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Ltd (HAL), seek­ing to co-opt them in his cam­paign against the Rafale jet fighter deal signed by the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance (NDA) govern­ment.

Tak­ing part in a dis­cus­sion with for­mer and cur­rent em­ploy­ees of HAL, Gandhi said the state-run mil­i­tary plane­maker was a strate­gic as­set and In­dia owed it a great deal for pro­tect­ing the coun­try.

“When (for­mer US Pres­i­dent Barack) Obama says the only coun­tries that can chal­lenge the USA are In­dia and China, that’s be­cause of your con­tri­bu­tion,” Gandhi said, stand­ing in front of a model of the Light Com­bat Air­craft built by HAL, op­po­site the com­pany’s cor­po­rate of­fice near Cub­bon Park in Bengaluru.

At the ses­sion, for­mer em­ploy­ees and trade union lead- ers of the pub­lic sec­tor unit said they felt in­sulted that a pri­vate com­pany had been cho­sen as an off­set part­ner of Das­sault Avi­a­tion, by­pass­ing HAL’S claim.

The NDA govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to en­ter an $8.7 bil­lion govern­ment-to-govern­ment deal with France to buy 36 Rafale war­planes made by Das­sault was an­nounced in April 2015, with an agree­ment signed a lit­tle over a year later. This re­placed the pre­vi­ous United Pro­gres­sive Al­liance (UPA) regime’s de­ci­sion to buy 126 Rafale air­craft, 108 of which were to be made in In­dia by HAL.

The deal has be­come con­tro­ver­sial with the Op­po­si­tion, led by the Congress, claim­ing that the price at which In­dia is buy­ing Rafale air­craft now is ~1,670 crore for each, three times the Rs 526 crore, the ini­tial bid by the com­pany when the UPA was try­ing to buy the air­craft. It has also claimed the pre­vi­ous deal in­cluded a tech­nol­ogy trans­fer agree­ment with HAL. The NDA has not dis­closed de­tails of the price, but the UPA deal, struck in 2012, was not a vi­able one, for­mer de­fence min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar has pre­vi­ously said, im­ply­ing that it would have never been closed and that, there­fore, any com­par­i­son is moot.

The deal has also be­come con­tro­ver­sial on ac­count of the fact that one of the off­set deals signed by Das­sault is with the Re­liance Group of Anil Am­bani. The Congress claims the ear­lier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to pro­vide Am­bani this op­por­tu­nity for an off­set deal. Both the govern­ment and Re­liance Group have re­peat­edly de­nied this.

At the ses­sion with Gandhi, a for­mer HAL em­ployee and union leader iden­ti­fied as Si­ra­jud­din said he felt in­sulted and let down that a com­pany with 78 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in man­u­fac­tur­ing air­craft was kept out.

“We were hurt and I don’t un­der­stand why the deal was taken away from us. What we want from in­flu­en­tial lead­ers is that you should please pro­tect our hon­our,” he said. “We are not beg­ging and we are ca­pa­ble of man­u­fac­tur­ing Rafale in In­dia,” he said.

The de­ci­sion to in­vite Gandhi for the event has come un­der crit­i­cism. The HAL em­ploy­ees’ union had de­cided not to sup­port the event and the com­pany had is­sued a di­rec­tive ask­ing cur­rent em­ploy­ees to give the dis­cus­sion a miss.

Ex­plain­ing the de­ci­sion to in­vite Gandhi, Anant Pad­man­ab­han, also a mem­ber of the HAL union, said it was clear that no­body would lis­ten to HAL em­ploy­ees un­less a leader like Gandhi was in­vited. “The Op­po­si­tion and rul­ing party are both re­spon­si­ble for run­ning the coun­ is my duty to ap­proach a proper per­son who is ca­pa­ble of de­fend­ing and giv­ing us strength to de­fend HAL and the pub­lic sec­tor,” he said.

Bring­ing the event to a close, Gandhi said a cou­ple of points raised at the dis­cus­sion had struck a chord with him.

“One, these (pub­lic sec­tor units) are the tem­ples of mod­ern In­dia and they are be­ing de­stroyed and we can­not al­low that. Sec­ond, you have worked for 70 years. If some­body thinks they can build their fu­ture on your graves, that won’t be al­lowed ei­ther,” he said.

“I can see HAL’S ca­pa­bil­i­ties here, I can see 78 years of your work… You have a his­tory. And I un­der­stand that you are pained and hurt,” he said.


Congress pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi meets em­ploy­ees of Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited in Bengaluru on Satur­day.


Aparna Ya­dav’s first pub­lic ap­pear­ance with Shiv­pal came a day af­ter Mu­layam at­tended his brother’s func­tion in Luc­know.

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