Rafale deal, widely discussed in International as well as Indian Media, is an agreement between India and France signed at the governmental level for procurement of 36 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) jet fighters built by French defence manufacturer Dassault. The deal has its genesis in a proposal put forth during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2000 for procurement of advanced jet fighters as part of the modernisation of the Indian Air Force. The Manmohan Singh government initiated the procurement process in 2007. The next United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government zeroed in on Rafale jet fighters in 2012, and a deal was inked with Dassault for 126 MRCAs.
The Narendra Modi government scrapped the deal after it came to power over pricing and some specification issues. However, on PM Modi’s visit to France in 2015, he made an announcement that the deal had been reworked and a recent agreement was on. Finally, the contract was signed in September 2016. Nearly one-and-half years India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France, dubbed as “Rafale deal”, in which India would reportedly pay about Rs. 58,000 crore or 7.8 billion Euros for 36 off-the-shelf DassaultRafale twin-engine fighters. About 15 per cent of this cost is being paid in advance. As per the deal, India will also get spares and weaponry, including the Meteor missile.
Here a question arises why Modi scrapped the early deal of UPA government which was comparatively more beneficial for India. It is argued in Indian media that the reason is Ambani. Within less than two weeks after Dassault bagged India’s 126 MMRCS deal, Mukesh Ambani became Dassault’s partner. So did Anil Ambani, afterwards. Now Dassault, which was ready to provide 126 Rafales at US$ 10.2 Billion, 18 available to fly and 108 to be made in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), asked additional money for weapons systems and technology transfer stretching the deal from 10.2 Billion to the US $14-18 Billion. Not only this, but they also refused to provide any guarantee for planes made by HAL.
In short, they broke every single clause, the rider in the original contract. There are numerous stories in the media about these escalated prices. The figures quoted by Defence Minister Parrikar are bizarre. Speaking to Doordarshan on April 13, 2015, Parrikar had revealed Rafale’s bid for 126 fighters, stating: “When you talk of 126 (Rafale) aircraft, it becomes a purchase of about Rs 90,000 crores’ — Rs 715 crore per fighter after adding all costs.” Parrikar had escalated the deal from $10.2 Bn to $14 Bn (Rs 90,000 Crores) without any apparent reason. Merely a month later, on May 31 2015, Parrikar was quoted as saying “the UPA deal for 126 Rafales was way too expensive, and it would have hampered other modernisation plans of the Indian military. The deal would have required around Rs 1.3 lakh crores throughout 10-11 years, he added.” Very suspiciously, an already escalated figure of 90,000 crores ($14 Billion) for the deal merely a month ago had suddenly become $20 Billion now, almost a 50% increase in 50 days, for no rhyme or reason. Was the Modi government merely feeding these figures and lying to the media to justify its grounds for the renegotiation?
When Dassault entered the bid, it had no leverage and much to lose if it didn’t get the bid. Dassault was desperate, its reputation of being non-transparent in its business (rated worst – F Band by transparency international) wasn’t helping it much, and Dassault’s CEO himself was caught up in charges of financial irregularities. However, Dassault-Ambani partnership changed everything. Now, Ambani – who controlled most of the politicians, thus controlled the government itself, was Dassault’s partner. So Dassault-Ambani started arm-twisting Indian government to get the most out of the deal. Read about Ambani’s Gas Scams to know about his arm-twisting prowess.
Thankfully, it wasn’t that easy. At first whiff of corruption, the Defence Minister of UPA at the time, A K Antony – considered as an honest politician, stopped serious negotiations, delaying the deal. So Dassault-Ambani had to wait out two more years until Modi became PM. It is to notify that Modi-Ambani unholy nexus is not a secret anymore. So as soon as Modi had an opportunity, he ratified the deal that is most disadvantageous to India and most profitable to Dassault-Ambani. Modi not only single-handedly took this decision, without even getting the formal cabinet in confidence but also kept Defence minister Parrikar himself in the dark. It’s been said that Modi’s top guns Jaitley, Parrikar etc. are not happy with Modi’s Deal. Subramanian Swamy of BJP has publicly spoken against and written a letter to PM Modi to stop this deal. No one is talking about it, because most of Indian Media has been reduced to Modi’s cheerleaders.
The scam is not in purchasing Rafale. The fraud is at the outrageous price the jets are being purchased for and that too with terms which are unfair to India, trashing all the original objectives of the deal. Moreover, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which is central apparatus to probe into the corruption charges against Modi, is itself witnessing disruptions since Sep due to the entanglement of top officials Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana in a row of the allegation and counter-allegation related to corruption. Mr Verma was appointed as Director CBI in 2017 and before his appointment; Mr Asthana headed CBI as interim Director. Mr Asthana is a Gujarat cadre IPS officer having proximity with the PM Modi since his posting tenures in Gujarat. He had supervised probe into “2002 burning of the Sabarmati Express train at the Godhra railway station” leading to “Gujarat carnage”.
Reportedly, Mr Verma and Mr Asthana were called by Prime Minister Office for rapprochement, however, failing to resolve, both officials were sent on leave on 24 Oct. Some reports of Indian media suggest that PM Modi, BJP President Ameet Shah and NSA Doval were in a huddle from early evening before taking the decision against the CBI officials. Mr Verma got FIR registered against Mr Asthana in a money laundering case and wanted to continue a further proceeding, whereas, Mr Asthana had filed a suit in court for quashing the FIR. 13 officials probing corruption charges against Mr.Asthana were also posted out to far-flung areas of the country. PM Modi immediately elevated another handpicked Joint Director and Police cadre official M Nageshwar Rao as acting CBI Director. To challenge his removal, Mr Varma filed a case in Indian SC which in its interim order has directed Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to probe the case whereas; NageshwarRao has been retained to continue as acting Director. Mr Verma’s ouster has sent shockwaves across the bureaucracy as CBI Director’s tenure is constitutionally protected post for two years.
Reportedly, Mr Verma was readying himself to initiate a preliminary enquiry (PE) into Rafale Scam. In the same regard, former BJP ministers Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and a lawyer namely Prashant Bhushan submitted a voluminous complaint to the CBI for investigation. Mr Verma even sought confirmation from the defence ministry about the authenticity of the official documents they had referred to. Moreover, Mr Verma has been trying to resist interference from extra-constitutional authorities in the functioning of the CBI and disliked harassment of political opponents through CBI. Reacting to the unprecedented removal of CBI Director, the Congress leader alleged that the move has wholly damaged the CBI’s credibility. Rahul Gandhi claimed that PM Modi had no choice but to remove the top officer, as a probe on the controversial purchase of 36 fighter jets would have been “political suicide” for both the PM and his government.
The Congress leaders have also upped their ante against the government, claiming that the Modi government has compromised the autonomy of top investigation agencies like CBI, CVC and even Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in trying to hide its wrongdoings. Indian Express also confirmed that at the time of Verma’s ouster, there were seven important cases on his table which include “Rafale scam”. The upheaval in CBI is viewed as a bad move on the part of Indian PM Modi in league with Ameet Shah and NSA Doval to hush up mega corruption Rafale aircraft deal. Moreover, the movement has also exposed the level of interference of politicians and politicisation of Indian institutions like CBI, CVC and RAW etc. casting doubts over their professionalism. The significance of acting Director Rao can be understood from the fact the Modi government had also appointed him to come to the rescue at a time when Modi’s handpicked Mr Asthana was checked by Mr Verma in corruption charges and obstructing essential cases.