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Rafale-too hot a potato to handle?

Posted in Featured, View Point

Published on February 16, 2019 with No Comments

The Rafale Deal under the Narendra Modi Government has bagged a due limelight. Much has been written and spoken about the deal and more could come in days to come specially with election season just around the corner. One major cause of concern in India is that media houses that should have acted as the fourth pillar of the democracy and should have worked to keep the government under check have been working as a mouthpiece of the government and the ruling party BJP. It prefers to shot down whosoever raises any issue related to the deal. The latest one to suffer happens to be editor of a leading daily from India who was able to bring out a note from the Ministry Of Defence that referred to “parallel negotiations by the PMO”, that could “weaken India’s case”. In days to come, the Rafale deal and issues linked to it are going to impact public perception. The opposition will not leave any stone unturned to hammer its point of view.

The Indian Air Force has been seeking a new twin-engine fighter jet for in order to replace the ageing Russian fighter jets that are being phased out. After testing out a number of global options, the Air Force in 2012 put the Rafale, built by France’s Dassault, and the Eurofighter Typhoon on its final list. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had put out a tender for 126 fighter jets and, because of a lower bid offer, had planned to buy 18 Rafales in fly-away condition from Dassault, with the remaining to be built in India along with the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). In 2015, however, on a visit to France, Modi announced a completely new deal, in which India would be getting 36 Rafale jets from France, all in fly-away condition. Under the terms of the 59,000 crore deal, all planes would be built in France but Dassault would have to offset about 50 per cent of that cost in India.

UPA deal which never could be signed was for 126 aircraft and that of the NDA is for 36 aircraft. And the aircrafts that were to be manufactured in Public Sector Unit HAL were awarded to his close friend Anil Ambani’s Reliance. Interestingly the company was formed only ten days before Modi was to leave for France. The UPA claim is that its negotiated price was 526 crores per aircraft. Though there are mentions of this in some official documents, a deal was never signed on this, however. On the other hand, the final Rafael deal by Modi government puts it to 1690 crores per aircraft, more than 300 per cent of the UPA pricing in 2012. Now, while Congress is claiming it to be a daylight robbery, BJP argues that Congress negotiated for an “unloaded”  basic aircraft chassis, and with advanced radar and many more features, the price is thrice today. It is tough to convince the public for a three-fold hike in the six-year gap.  It is difficult to believe that UPA was negotiating was “unarmed aircrafts” which were to be inducted as fighter aircrafts. It is tricky to accept that the French proposed the name of Anil Ambani’s company as an offset partner in India. Whereas Former President of France, Francois Hollande, who signed the inter-governmental agreement on Rafale in September 2016, is reported to have said that the government of India had given no choice other than Reliance Defence to be the partner. However, no TV channel in India has poised tough questions to the government, rather some of them have gone all out to call this a bluff of Congress President Rahul Gandhi who shared this with media in India. No one questioned the experience of Reliance Defence or any of its allied company in the manufacturing of aerospace and defence equipments, and loss of faith in HAL.

Another major instance related to this deal can also not be called an inadvertent act. Modi Government provided certain documents to the Supreme Court in sealed cover and in one such documents it claimed that the reports of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have been tabled in the Parliament.  Facing a fierce Opposition’s attack that it misled the Supreme Court by stating that the pricing of Rafale deal has already been examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the government later moved an application in the apex court seeking a correction in the order. Very smartly the government managed to maneuver its way with the Supreme Court of India and is now making tall claims that it has got a clean chit from the courts. With no aircrafts delivered yet, the status of their actual manufacturing now yet known and a host of issues like increased prices, the damaging interviews of the former French President, the error before Supreme Court and parallel negotiations by the PMO, etc., are bound to be major talking points in

 

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