Row Over Rafale Deal: Congress’ Allegations Miss out on Facts
Due procedure was followed in the procurement of Rafale fighter jets by the NDA government.
(As the Congress levels allegations of wrongdoing in the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets, The Quint debates whether the defence deal was marked by procedural flaws. This is the counter-view, you may like to read the view by Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala here)
Scams related to the procurement of military hardware have surfaced frequently in India since the procurement of the Bofors guns from Sweden for the Indian Army in the 1980s.
The most recent scam, which was particularly traumatic for the Indian Air Force (IAF), was related to the procurement of 12 helicopters from AgustaWestland, the Anglo-Italian firm, for VVIP travel.
In this ugly episode, the reputation of a former Chief of Air Staff lay shattered and a red-faced Indian Air Force (IAF) was literally left holding the baby! The contract was cancelled after three helicopters had been delivered, and these are parked at IAF Station in Palam, with the IAF not knowing what to do with them.
Political Slugfest Over Rafale Deal
The allegations by the Congress party, spearheaded by its vice-president Rahul Gandhi, of impropriety on the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the deal with the French government to purchase 36 Rafale jets from Dassault, have only aggravated the slugfest between the two national parties headed for a showdown in Gujarat next month.
The allegations of wrongdoing pertain firstly to the cost of the deal. The Congress claims that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has paid a much higher unit cost for the aircraft compared to the aborted deal for 126 Rafale jets negotiated by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
Factoring in Additional Costs
Firstly, the contract negotiations then had hit a roadblock over mandatory partnership with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) that proved insurmountable. This finally led to the cancellation of the contract altogether.
Besides, the total value of the contract would be subject to the additional demands placed by the IAF pertaining to product support, weapon systems, state-of-the-art avionics, upgrades, and training.
Thus, for an accurate price comparison, it would be necessary to factor in the additional demands by the IAF. In any case, price comparison between the two contracts would not be relevant as the one for 126 aircraft was never finalised, and hence the final costing had not been done.
Charges About Transfer of Technology Don’t Hold Ground
The second allegation is that the NDA government ignored the requirement of transfer of technology, which had been a major focus of the deal that was being negotiated by the UPA government. Transfer of technology is possible only if the platform is to be manufactured in India in collaboration with an Indian firm.
In this case, as the 36 Rafale jets are being procured in fly-away condition to fulfil the requirement of critical operational necessity, this exercise is regarded as “emergency procurement” to arrest the eroding operational potential of the IAF.
The issue of transfer of technology, in this case, is not quite relevant.
Dassault Aviation Was Not in Favour of HAL
The Congress has alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sacrificed the interest of the HAL, which has been excluded from this project. The NDA government’s decision, instead, has helped the Reliance Defence Limited, a company in the private sector of the Indian aerospace industry owned by Anil Ambani, to get a contract to produce Rafale fighter aircraft as part of the offset obligation.
This allegation reflects lack of knowledge about the whole exercise, and is, therefore, somewhat misplaced.
This was not acceptable to Dassault Aviation as the OEM did not have the confidence in HAL’s capability and competence to ensure quality standards expected in the production of the Rafale jets in India.
Misplaced Notion About Reliance Defence Limited
As Dassault Aviation was not prepared to risk their reputation, the OEM was not prepared to partner with the HAL. Instead, Dassault had identified Reliance Defence Limited as the Indian partner. On its part, the Ministry of Defence was totally inflexible on this issue, leading to a deadlock in the contract negotiations.
The other point where this allegation is flawed is that the Reliance Defence Limited will not be involved in the manufacture of the Rafale jet in India as all the 36 aircraft are being procured in flyaway condition.
Timing of the Backlash Suspicious
On the accusation by the Congress that in the procurement of 36 Rafale jets the NDA government has not adhered to the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), the Minister of Defence, Nirmala Sitharaman, in a media briefing, categorically stated that there has been no violation whatsoever of the procedure laid down.
The timing of the campaign by the Congress to raise issues pertaining to the deal with the Government of France indicates that the purpose of the exercise is not to really unearth any scam in defence procurement, but more to muddy the waters and discredit Prime Minister Narendra Modi so as to erode the credibility of the ruling party not only in the forthcoming elections in the state of Gujarat but also in the national elections two years later.
A possible backlash for the Congress, however, could be the erosion of confidence that the Indian armed forces ought to have in the political leadership of the nation.
(The author, Air Marshal (Retd) BK Pandey is a former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Training Command. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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