Congress National President Rahul Gandhi, who will be visiting Bengaluru on Saturday, will interact with the employees and retired employees of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). However, some employees of the state-owned aerospace and defence company have objected to participating in the meeting as they did not want to have any political engagement.
Speaking to TNM, Suryadevara Chandra Shekhar, General Secretary of HAL's Employees Union said, “The Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) formally approached us and wanted us to be present at the event. But since we are a part of the government, we cannot be taking part in political platforms.”
Rahul Gandhi is scheduled for a 90-minute interaction session with the employees near the HAL headquarters near Cubbon Park in Bengaluru. He is expected to speak about the contributions of HAL to the county.
However, the company's management has issued a circular warning against any noticeable engagement with a political party under the employees’ code of conduct. The employees union reiterated the same caution but confirmed that individual choice will be respected. “People can attend the event as it is their individual choice. We will not be sharing the stage with Rahul Gandhi at the event,” clarified Suryadevara.
The interaction has presumed significance as it comes in the backdrop of reports emerging that the NDA government had replaced HAL with Reliance, a private company, as part of the deal. Rahul Gandhi has alleged that changing the terms of reference in the deal has cost HAL and has demanded answers from the central government over why the company was left out of the deal.
In the run-up to the State Assembly elections in Karnataka earlier this year, Rahul Gandhi had repeatedly highlighted how the central government had neglected HAL, which has a history of 70 years.
Even though the company's employees union has asked its employees to stay away from Saturday's interaction, it will be writing to the central government to address issues related to the company. "We are writing to the Raksha Mantri to address issues within the company. We were supposed to be included in the Rafale deal but were eventually left out. There are orders for Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) and Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) and Sukhoi helicopters that are yet to be released. We are concerned about our orders reducing and our personnel becoming idle because of it. We are constantly in touch with the Raksha Mantri to have further orders released so that we are working in full capacity again," added Suryadevara. HAL is governed under the management of the Ministry of Defense.
In a press conference by the Congress in Karnataka on Friday, retired HAL officer Ananta Padmanabha stated that all combat aircraft are currently being built by HAL. "Right now, people are speaking lightly of this organisation. We are ranked sixth in the world in building aircraft and fourth in the world in aerospace. Our defence minister has no information and the Prime Minister is yet to meet the organisation. We are capable of building Rafale," he said.
Contrary to the Congress's stance, the BJP at the Centre has maintained that the current deal gives India weaponised aircraft at a cheaper price. The central government had claimed that a deal could not be sealed with HAL to build Rafale aircraft as it could not agree on terms with Dassault Aviation, the French aerospace company that designed the Rafale aircraft.