The Rafale deal is proving to be an albatross around Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s neck. In their joint media-briefing on the controversial deal in New Delhi last week, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie — both former ministers in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government — and senior advocate Prashant Bhushan have made certain startling revelations about the manner in which UPA’s earlier negotiation at an advanced stage for 126 Rafale fighter jets was suddenly changed by the PM by settling for only 36 fighters. This, they alleged, was in gross violation of mandatory procedures including bypassing the Cabinet Committee on Security. The purported supporting documents released by them do lend considerable credence to their charges. They have also come down heavily for the inexplicable dropping from the project of government owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.(HAL) which had already entered into a work-share agreement with Dassault Aviation according to which 70 per cent of the work on 108 planes were to be done in India. Instead, a company with no past experience in the field of aerospace manufacture and incorporated barely days before the India-France Joint Statement issued on April 10, 2015, has been assigned 70 per cent of the offset benefits worth Rs 210 billion, apparently in flagrant violation of defence offset guidelines that require approval by the defence minister.
The easing out of HAL made a mockery of oft-repeated “Make in India” slogan by the Prime Minister. The said joint statement had unequivocally stated that “…the aircraft and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by Indian Air force…”. Then why such huge price differential?
The trio has described the deal as a major scandal amounting to misuse of office and a criminal misconduct that imperils the security of the country and places an enormous additional burden on the national exchequer. Is there something more than what meets the eye?
Sunil Choudhury Bengaluru
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An earlier version of this letter had wrongly identified HAL as HIndustan Aviation Limited. It has been rectified to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The error is regretted.