Rafale Controversy: An Issue Dragged for No Reason
By Byomakesha Kumar Singh
On April 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India will buy 36 French-manufactured Rafale fighter jets off-the-shelf from Dassault, the French aircraft builder and integrator. The Rafale was chosen in 2012 over rival offers from the United States, Europe and Russia. The step was needed to upgrade India's ageing fleet. The original plan was that India would buy 18 off-the-shelf jets from France's Dassault Aviation, with 108 others being assembled in India by the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited or HAL in Bengaluru.
The Modi-led BJP government, however, rowed back from the commitment of the last UPA government to buy 126 Rafales, saying the twin-engined planes would be too expensive and the deal fell through after nearly decade-long negotiations between India and France. There were a lot of hiccups over costs of the aircraft. However, faced with the dipping number of fighters and a pressing need to upgrade the Indian Air Force, Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened and decided to buy 36 "ready-to-fly" fighters instead of trying to acquire technology from Dassault and make it in India.
Soon after the deal was declared, the Congress accused the ruling BJP of non-transparency in the multi-billion dollar deal and called it "one of the biggest failures" of the 'Make-in-India' programme.
What followed next was typical political drama and slugfest. There were accusations and counter accusations. What I will try to highlight is how the level of politics has gone down. Congress accused Modi government of removing HAL from the deal and replacing it with Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence Limited. Furthermore, Congress accused the BJP of corruption, saying why the BJP is buying only 36 planes when the UPA signed a deal of 136 planes. Also, Rahul Gandhi vociferously said that Narendra Modi asked a “mahila”(women), i.e., Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s defence Minister to save him. This created a spark and Rahul Gandhi was issued a notice by National Commission of Women which said that Rahul, by saying “mahila” has insulted women. BJP, on the other hand, said “Bofors (During the reign of UPA) was a scam, Rafale is not.” Arun Jaitley started making personal comments saying the entire Gandhi family is a family of criminals which is out on bail. What we can see is that the issue clearly got diverted and there were many personal attacks.
Even the Supreme Court has given BJP a clean chit, yet Congress wasted an entire winter session in proving BJP for corruption. It is clearly not acceptable. When the apex court has given a clean chit, who is Congress to go against such decision? It is clearly an insult to the decision of Supreme Court. Furthermore, due to confidentiality issues, details regarding Rafale deal cannot be revealed. Better and progressive things could have been done in the winter session. It is due to this wastage of the time of winter session that the bill for reservation of 10% for Economically Weaker Section of the General category was introduced hastily without much debates and discussions. This was a bill which needed a thorough discussion, since it involves the amendment of the constitution as well.
Rafale deal has proved to be a sensitive issue and might affect the votings of the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, but the issue was dragged on too much without any content.Their were unnecessary personal comments which were scathing, interest of the public was kept aside by discussing an issue which has already been settled by the apex court and by introducing a reservation bill needed the precious time of the winter session of the Parliament which was wasted on this controversy. Clearly, its a scene of imbroglio wherein many new issues which were unnecessary were created out of this issue like issuing of the notice by NCW.
What we can see from the Rafale issue or past 4 years in particular is that Congress party has failed as opposition. Over the past four years and even now when the elections are approaching and are just months away, the Congress has only criticized the current government, rather than offering anything new and substantial. Rahul’s obsession for Modi is too much. Why did he want Modi to answer the Rafale issue? It wasn’t Modi alone, but the entire BJP who made this deal and it is only the defence minister who would be the appropriate person to answer the questions regarding it since it was a defence deal. Rahul knows that by tarnishing Modi’s image, a huge damage can be done since Narendra Modi has proved to be the backbone of the BJP. Congress should have offered anything new and substantial. He criticized Modi’s interview by a news reporter, referring her as “pliable” and that the entire interview was scripted. Well, we all know how his interview with Arnab Goswami turned out. Everytime, the Congress has thrown hollow opprobriums at the Bharatiya Janata Party. With fake tape recordings regarding Rafale, Congress cannot achieve anything, rather its high time that the Congress starts focussing on offering something new and substantial, else 2019 will be again the celebration year for BJP.