Referring to the row over the Rafale purchase deal, former Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said on Saturday 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 after the Balakot strike, the outcome would have been different, he said.
Speaking at the Techfest event organised by IIT-Bombay here, Dhanoa referred to the Rafale row, and said the Supreme Court gave a "fine judgment" on the issue (giving a clean chit to the Narendra Modi government).
"I have always personally maintained that..when the Rafale thing was thrown up if you politicise the defence acquisition system, the whole system goes behind," he 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 (during the Rajiv Gandhi government) despite the Bofors guns "being good", he noted.
There are several agencies in the country to look into a deal if there are complaints, he said.
At the same time, the former air chief marshal added that people have the right to ask questions about the price of the aircraft as tax payers' money is at stake.
"The fact is, because of creating a controversy out of it, the slowing down of defence modernisation later affects you," said Dhanoa, who retired in September last year.
"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," he said.
Modi had said in March last year that the results would have been different if India had Rafale jets during the air strike on terror camps in Pakistan.
Dhanoa said the outcome would have been different had Wing Commander Varthaman, who downed an enemy jet during a dogfight but was captured himself, been flying a Rafale instead of a MiG 21 fighter plane.
"100 per cent it would have been different. Why was he not flying a Rafale? Because you took 10 years to decide which aircraft to buy. So, it (the delay) affects you," he said, without naming the earlier Congress-led UPA government.
He also reiterated that the governments of the day rejected the IAF's proposal to carry out air strikes on terrorist camps in Pakistan after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack and the earlier 2001 Parliament attack.
"But the decision, like I keep saying, is a political decision. It (the proposal) was not accepted at that time. So it gave the terror-sponsoring state confidence that India will not retaliate to a terrorist attack," he said.
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was clueless about the IAF's strike in Balakot, Dhanoa said.
He said there was a lack of co-ordination between the Pakistani Army and the PAF during the 1971 (Bangladesh) war and the 1999 Kargil war too.
"When Balakot happened, the PAF did not know (about the IAF's strike). There were no terminal weapons in Balakot.
Even we were surprised," he added.
Dhanoa also said that terror attacks in Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama indicated that India's conventional deterrence, "though it is superior to its enemy", was not stopping the enemy from carrying out terrorist activities on Indian soil.
"Thus, the Balakot strike was approved by the government to send a message to Pakistan that henceforth, such acts will come with a heavy price. The government changed the stand," he said.
"One of the reasons for the strategic surprise was that they (Pakistan) had always underestimated our leadership.
They never expected our leaders to give a go-ahead (to Balakot-like airstrike)," he said.