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Sunday, April 11, 2021

India finally gets Rafale jets, but it doesn’t get answers to Rafale controversies

Good news amid pandemic! Here it is for those still not aware of it: the first batch of five Rafale jet aircraft took off from France on Monday. They will arrive in India on Wednesday. Then the mighty fighter jets will officially be inducted into the Indian Air Force fleet at the airbase in Ambala, Haryana.

The Rafale aircraft will cover around 7,000km from France to India. The jets will have air-to-air refuelling and one stop en route in UAE. Air force pilots and supporting personnel have been given full training on aircraft and weapon systems by Dassault, the company from which India bought the fighter jets. The Indian embassy in France hailed the event as a “new milestone” in strong and growing India-France defence cooperation.

Everything will seem very positive about the entire episode to those who are either unaware of the great Rafale controversies or have forgotten it altogether. In this article, we shall highlight those old and unhealed wounds of the country regarding the murky Rafale deal.

Here are the 6 questions about the entire Rafale episode that we still have no answers to

1. Why were the number of jets reduced to 36 from 126?

The Indian Air Force had told the then UPA government about their urgent requirement of 126 fighter jets. The Manmohan Singh-led Centre then initiated the acquisition process which continued for years. Tender was floated for purchase of 126 fighter jets and Dassault Aviation SA, an international French aircraft manufacturer of military and business jets, was selected for the deal. But in April 2015 suddenly the Narendra Modi-led NDA government announced a new deal for the purchase of just 36 aircraft as he visited Paris that time. The Centre told the Supreme Court that it had scrapped the old deal of 126 jets but showed no file or documents for the new proposal. On the other hand, Dassault claimed that it completed 95% works related to the old order placed by the UPA government. We still don’t know why the number was reduced and the old deal scrapped. The confusion still remains why the Modi government didn’t show any paper about the new deal to the SC.

2. Why India and France didn’t sign any sovereign guarantee on the deal?

There was no sovereign guarantee signed between the two countries regarding the deal. According to experts, the sovereign guarantee deal could have helped India claim its purchase rights if there was any technical or manufacturing glitch in the fighter jets. All India got is a “letter of comfort” from France, guaranteeing the products’ quality. However, defense experts believe this letter does not hold any legal value.

3. India raised the price of the jets on its own, why?

India raised the benchmark price of the 36 jets at the last moment before finalising the new deal. Finally, India bought only 36 jets at a price 40% higher than the total price of the 126 jets as per the UPA government’s order. Nobody knows why the price was made higher by the Indian cabinet committee for security. Even SC didn’t question this part and said it won’t interfere into the price details.

4. How did SC confuse between Mukesh and Anil Ambani

The SC in its judgment “mistakenly” mentioned Mukesh Ambani as the one who signed the contract with Dassault whereas it was Anil Ambani who actually had signed the deal. It is still not known why the top court didn’t even rectify its “mistake”. Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries did have previous partnership with Dassault, but it was Anil’s Reliance Infrastructure that signed the contract. To know more, click here.

5. Why the project was shifted from India to France?

We all know how Prime Minister Narendra Modi began the Make in India initiative and how he still emphasizes on his Atmanirbhar plan for the country’s development. The Rafale fight jet project too was to a certain extent an indigenous plan where Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was given the responsibility to manufacture a certain number of jets in collaboration with Dassault. However, the plan was suddenly cancelled and the Centre took the entire project to France. The Centre blamed HAL for its “inefficiency”. The SC accepted it and never asked the Centre to produce the work share papers that both Dassault and HAL signed and submitted to the Indian government. So many questions you can find in it, right? Yes, but they still have no answers yet.

6. Why Dassault invested 40 million Euros in Anil Ambani’s firm?

We all know how Anil Ambani does fare in the industry now. His business never flourished as that of his elder brother’s. Still, Dassault invested in a dead firm like Anil’s, that too 40 million euros in 2017-18. Why? Whereas as per reports, Dassault was always known to have invested in its core familiar area only. And the company itself was facing losses when it invested in an obscure firm like Anil’s and eventually incurred further losses. Experts find this strange, so do we.

Ominous similarity and difference between the Bofors and Rafale controversies

In 1986, India signed a deal of Rs 1,437 crore with Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors for the supply of Bofors guns for the Indian Army. But in 1987, a Swedish radio channel alleged that the firm had bribed top Indian politicians and defence personnel to finalise the contract. The Rajiv Gandhi-led Centre had to pay the price of the scandal. The CBI lodged FIRs against then chief of Bofors, Martin Ardbo, “middlemen” Win Chadda and the Hinduja brothers for criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery. This scandal still haunts the Congress.

However, in case of Rafale, the Supreme Court gave a clean chit to Narendra Modi-led Centre and said that all review petitions against the deal lacked merit.

India Rafale jets
The Supreme Court of India. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The apex court struck down the petitions that sought to re-examine the 2018 verdict in which the court had declared that there was no occasion to doubt the decision-making process in the procurement of a total of 36 fighter jets. It seems even though the scandals were of same nature, Modi is better placed than Rajiv Gandhi in this case.

 

 

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