Former Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa on Saturday, while referring to the row over the purchase of Rafale fighter jets said that such controversies slow down defence acquisitions, affecting the armed forces’ capabilities.

“Had Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman been flying a Rafale instead of a MiG 21 during the India-Pakistan stand-off post the Balakot strike, the outcome would have been different,” he said.

Dhanoa, who retired in September last year while speaking at an event at IIT- Bombay, said that the Supreme Court gave a “fine judgment” on the Rafale issue (giving a clean chit to the Narendra Modi government).

The Supreme Court on December 14, 2018, gave a clean chit to the Centre on the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France.

“I have always personally maintained that if you politicise the defence acquisition system, the whole system goes behind,” Dhanoa said.

Dhanoa further said, “All other files also start moving at a slow pace because people start becoming very, very conscious,” he said. The Bofors deal too got mired in controversy despite the guns “being good”, he added.

At the same time, people have the right to ask questions about prices of the aircraft as tax payers” money is at stake, the former air chief said.

“The fact is, because of creating a controversy out of it, the slowing down of defence modernisation later affects you,” he said.

“Like the prime minister made a statement. People are saying it is a political (statement) but the fact is that the statement he made is correct.”
“If we had Rafale, the question would have been totally different,” former Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who downed an F-16 fighter of Pakistan on February 27 during the Balakot Air Strike, was captured by Pakistan after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in a dogfight with Pakistani jets during an aerial combat. His own aircraft had been hit by a missile forcing him to eject from the fighter jet before it crashlanded in Pakistan.

Pakistani security forces released him to India around 60 hours later at the Wagah border following diplomatic pressure from India.

Ealier, the Supreme Court in November last year, dismissed Rafale review petitions against its December 14, 2018 judgement upholding the Rs 58,000 crore fighter jet deal.

The top court had dismissed petitions seeking a review of its judgment refusing a CBI investigation into the Rafale fighter jet deal with French firm Dassault Aviation and giving the government a clean chit.

India had in 2016 signed an agreement with France to buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft, costing approximately Rs 58,000-crore (about USD 8 billion), in a fly-away condition for Indian Air Force equipment upgrade.

The Congress has been accusing massive irregularities in the deal, alleging that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating procurement of 126 Rafale jets.