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Rafale Deal: More Questions than Answers Confront the NDA Govt

Modified deal with Dassault over Rafale fighter jets has done more harm than good, writes Randeep Singh Surjewala.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
 Rafale Deal: More Questions than Answers Confront the NDA Govt
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(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 view, you may like to read the counter-view by former Air Marshal Bejoy Pandey here)

In terms of sheer scale alone, the Rafale scam promises to dwarf all others.

It would also represent one of the starkest compromises made with regard to our national security unrivalled by any previous government.

That this happened under the watch of a Prime Minister who never hesitates to take credit for the achievements of the armed forces, makes it all the more ironic. Despite what is at stake for this government, it seems more intent on suppressing information rather than clarifying the strength of its policy decision.

One is forced to ask, after almost two weeks since the unearthing of key information about the clumsy nature of the deal, why has the government not answered any of the questions being raised?

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Rafale Deal as Approved by the UPA Govt

To understand why the Rafale deal, re-engineered by the Modi government, needs to be scrutinised, we need to contrast it with the one secured by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

Following a transparent and open bidding process in which several leading aerospace companies (such as Boeing, SAAB and Lockheed Martin) participated in 2007, Dassault was selected to supply 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft.

This agreement was refined in 2012 with three key terms:

First, the company would sell the aircraft at the base price of $10.2 billion (roughly equivalent to Rs 54,000 crore).

Second, the 18 planes would be provided in a ready to operate or ‘fly-away’ state, while the remaining 108 would be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited following a significant technology transfer (HAL and Dassault signed an agreement to this effect in March 2014).

Third, Dassault would invest and spend half of the total investment amount within India for projects to be carried out within the country. None of these facts are disputed.

One-Sided Agreement by the NDA Govt

Yet, upon assuming office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would undo this undeniably beneficial agreement, replacing it instead with a skewed one-sided agreement. On his visit to France, Modi announced that 36 jets would be purchased in a fly-away condition.

On closer inspection, it became clear that the price for each jet would be increased from around Rs 500 crore to over Rs 1,500 crore, and these 36 aircrafts constituted the sum total of the agreement.

This increase in price alone would have been sufficient to raise questions about the wisdom behind the change. However, the deal continued to get worse. India would no longer get the technology transfer. The HAL would no longer be required to manufacture 108 jets as previously agreed.

And a private company, which with remarkable prescience happened to be present in France when the Prime Minister made his visit and his announcement, would be Dassault’s partner.

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Modified Deal Defies the Defence Procurement Procedure

All of this took place in an opaque and non-transparent manner. The Defence Minister was not present when the Prime Minister made his grand announcement, and the modified deal does not seem to have been carried out in compliance with the Defence Procurement Procedure (with the Committee on Procurement being completely bypassed along with the Cabinet Committee on Security and Foreign Investment Promotion Board).

The Dassault agreement was vital because it aimed at replacing our existing fleet of MiGs-class aircraft. Defence experts at the time of the UPA had hailed it as a fair and necessary agreement. Few defence experts would risk their credibility by claiming that the revised agreement was indeed a worthwhile renegotiation.

Unanswered Questions

In the light of these facts, we would be remiss if we did not ask the following questions.

What is the final price being paid per aircraft?

It is now estimated that the price of the aircraft would be almost triple of what was negotiated by the UPA (Rs 1570.8 crore per aircraft contrasted with the UPA negotiated price of Rs 526.1 crore per aircraft). How is this a move in the national interest?

Who will investigate this loss to the public exchequer?

Why was a specific private company, with zero experience in defence production, chosen to partner with Dassault in place of HAL for defence offsets. This part of the agreement, known as the offset obligations, was estimated at Rs 30,000 crore.

Why would the government unilaterally decide that this particular company, with limited to no experience in this space, was equipped to handle such a crucial venture?

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Sacrifice of Technology Transfer is Betrayal

Why was the technology transfer to HAL dropped entirely from the agreement? The technology transfer would have bolstered Modi’s ‘Make In India’ programme and helped India advance its own capacity in this space.

The sacrifice of a technology transfer which would have helped India advance in the field of aerospace manufacturing, is a betrayal that will affect our progress in this space for generations. What were the factors that led to the repudiation of this agreement negotiated and signed under the UPA? Why is the BJP government so reluctant to share the facts on which this decision was premised?

When will even these 36 aircrafts finally be delivered? Given that the new deal was signed in September 2016, when can we expect the planes to finally arrive? If it is going to take seven years as suggested by several quarters, then does that not jeopardise our defence preparedness?

The BJP cannot claim, even to its most dedicated supporters, that a deal which results in a far greater cost for almost a fifth of the aircraft while benefitting a private company over a respected and experienced government entity, is in the national interest.

Move Beyond Nationalism

The BJP government, instead of answering these questions, has chosen to malign those asking the same. Instead of providing details about the terms of the agreement, they have instead chosen to delay the Winter Session of Parliament.

To them, our challenge is clear: make whatever flimsy accusations you want, but answer these questions. While they can delay answering these questions, they cannot avoid them. The BJP government will have to learn that the security interests of our nation are simply non-negotiable.

For a government that spent its first three years giving out certificates of nationalism, it is time to test whether they measure up to their own standards.

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(The writer is an MLA and in-charge of the media and communications department of the Indian National Congress. He can be reached @rssurjewala. 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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