New Delhi, Delhi, India
Feb 24, 2019, 10.32 AM
The Congress in general — and Rahul Gandhi in particular — is trying to keep the Rafale deal as a major poll plank in the absence of a topic that can create a narrative against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Congress has not been able to dig up any scam. No evidence of any kickbacks has been brought in the public domain by the Congress chief, though he persistently and quite unabashedly keeps abusing the PM. The CAG, the Supreme Court, and the French government have pronounced that there was no wrongdoing and that the deal is in India’s benefit.
The deal is worth only Rs 58,000 crore. But, Rahul keeps saying that due to the PM, Anil Ambani benefitted to the tune of Rs 30,000 crore, which is absurd on the face of it. The Congress has to answer why it delayed the deal for 10 years when the Air Force was in dire need of medium combat aircraft since 2004. Modi did a great service to the nation by reducing the number of aircraft from 126 to 36 as it would have become obsolete by the time the entire 126 would be delivered. By reducing the number to just two squadrons Modi saved a large amount of foreign exchange. If the idea was to make shady deals as Rahul Gandhi had alleged, then, the government would have gone ahead with a larger order package.
For about a year, Rahul was making unsubstantiated allegations. The Rafale deal is a project of the UPA. Between 2012 and 2014, there was a 100 per cent escalation in its price. Then, in the new deal, the government has asked for technology upgradation, additional features and transfer of technology. If the Modi government wanted, it could have scrapped the deal and gone for a new global tender. Rafale was selected in January 2012 when Dr Manmohan Singh was Prime Minister. Reliance came into the picture the same year, under UPA. In February 2012, Reliance Industries and France’s Dassault Aviation signed a pact for partnering in the defence and homeland security sector in India. The accord came less than two weeks after Dassault’s Rafale warplanes emerged as the preferred bidder in a $15 billion-contest to supply India with 126 fighter jets.
The partnership provided Dassault with a substantial opportunity to fulfil its offset obligations under the contract. Dassault wanted RIL to be the main partner. Under the offset clause, a foreign supplier must award contracts worth a chunk of the deal value to Indian companies in return.
The opposition’s furore over Rafale seems to be an attempt to starve the Indian Air Force of combat aircrafts of international standards. A demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee will put the entire procurement and ‘Make in India’ programme in cold storage for years. As for Reliance not having past experience, it was again the French company which found it useful.
If having Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries on board was okay in February 2012, then how does getting Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence in the deal become cronyism and scam in 2016? Is it only because it happened under Modi? About the price, Rahul Gandhi is quoting the price of 2008 in 2018. Can he get even a razor for the same price today as it was in 2008? In a joint venture, the partner has to invest money and Rafale will only be transferring technology. How can Reliance make money here? Rather, they have to put in money. The French government has said that choosing the Indian partner was the job of Dassault Aviation. The French company has said they chose the Indian partner. How can Rahul blame Modi for this? He is either being vicious or ill-informed or has, as usual, got only half-baked information.
Each time Rahul was providing different figures as the Reliance’s gain and the prices at which the deal was signed by the UPA and the NDA. In the first place, the UPA never signed any deal with Dassault (Aviation). It was only negotiating, and different prices were quoted. The price finally agreed by the UPA was Rs 737 crore per aircraft, and with additional fittings and capabilities the price agreed was Rs 2,000 crore per piece. The deal was, however, never signed. The deal signed by the NDA is for Rs 670 crore per aircraft, and with additional capacity it comes to Rs 1,600 crore per aircraft. The NDA has ordered for 36 aircraft whereas UPA was planning to buy 126.
The Indian Air Force in 2001 projected a desperate need for 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) and the process of selecting the same concluded in 2007 under the UPA. The two aircraft shortlisted were Rafale and Eurofighter, which was number two. When the Modi government came to power, Eurofighter was hopeful of getting the deal as it felt the one selected by the UPA could be replaced. They lobbied hard with support from the British government.
The UPA had selected a middleman, who was to get a 10 per cent cut. The deal finally was not signed also perhaps because of this. Although the IAF was desperate, then Defence Minister AK Antony refused to sign any paper. Then, it was said that the UPA had no money; it was decided to postpone the purchase until the next government assumed power. The NDA has entered into a government-to-government deal, so there is neither any middleman nor commission agent.
The Congress has not been able to dig up any scam. No evidence of any kickbacks has been brought in the public domain by the Congress chief, though he persistently and quite unabashedly keeps abusing the PM.