Debate Uncovers Murkier Aspects of Rafale Deal

Mala Jay

Several sinister new specifics of the Rafale deal and telltale pointers to a possible cover-up came to the surface during the stormy debate on the controversial fighter aircraft in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.

Led by Congress lead speaker Rahul Gandhi, the combined Opposition launched a series of surgical strikes that seemed to expose new chinks in the government’s armour.  

Pointed questions were raised for which the Treasury benches had no straightforward answer, except to take refuge in bald denials or, as Arun Jaitley attempted to do, deflect attention by talking of other issues like Bofors,  St. Kitts,  AgustaWestland and even a misquotation from James Bond.     

Speakers from Opposition, including Sougata Ray (Trinamool), Mohd  Salim (CPI-M),  Jaydev Galla (TDP) and Kalikesh Singh Deo (BJD),  however, kept their guns trained on the issue at hand - the Rafale deal,  the role played by the Prime Minister personally,  the alleged irregularities in pricing and procedure and blatant patronage and crony capitalism. 

Some of the sharp queries were based on information already on the public domain but there were also a few that flagged hitherto unknown or less explored aspects of what is potentially a Pandora ’s Box of scandals within overall Rafale rip-off. 

Perhaps the most riveting of the new revelations was a tape-recorded conversation that purportedly refers to former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar “holding the Modi government to ransom” with secret files in his possession.  However, acting on Jaitley’s objections the Speaker neither permitted the tape to be played nor even the transcript to be read by Rahul Gandhi.  

But since the contents of the tape, whether genuine or not, are now available publically, it does add spice to speculations about murky goings-on behind-the-scenes  during and after the Rafale deal was done.  It also raises the possibility that the Prime Minister could be vulnerable to exposure as much from within as from his overt political adversaries.      

Indeed, the main effort from the government’s side appeared to be to shield the Prime Minister from being nailed for his personal role and from being scrutinized on the motives behind the announcing the aircraft purchase contract before it was approved through due process.  

In the face of the vigorous attack by Rahul Gandhi on various aspects of the Rafale deal and the surgical strikes from subsequent participants in the debate,  the ruling party was quite clearly pushed on the defensive.  What was even more galling for the BJP was that its own NDA ally the Shiv Sena was unsparing in its criticism. 

More significantly, at the end of the day,  public perception has been heightened that much more may have been involved in the purchase of fighter aircraft than just gross irregularities in pricing, procedure, pecuniary benefits and patronage to crony capitalists.

What came out loud and clear during the stormy debate were indications of a cover-up of disturbing proportions to protect Prime Minister Narendra Modi from being nailed on several counts.   

 The debate itself was rich with detailed arguments as well as several witticisms that enlivened proceedings despite the constant din raised by AIADMK member who laid siege in the Well of the House – before the Speaker rather belatedly named them and placed them under suspension for five days.  

Rahul Gandhi was particularly in good form and good humour throughout his hard-hitting presentation.  At one point the Speaker objected to his naming Anil Ambani and without blinking an eye the Congress leader complied by saying that he would use “A. A.”  while referring to the industrialist.  Later Saugata Roy added his own solution to not being allowed to name a person who was not a member of the House by using the sobriquet “chhota Ambani”.

The points raised by Rahul Gandhi and subsequent speakers from the Opposition like Saugata Roy and Mohd Salim were interspersed with a serious arguments and humourous volleys. A sampling: 

·        The NDA which has got 300 Members in this Lok Sabha but had to borrow a Member from Rajya Sabha to speak on their behalf. Not only that, that Member from Rajya Sabha is not even the Defence Minister. He claims to be an expert on Defence.

·        May I mention, that Mr. Jaitley has lost his touch. He quoted Ian Fleming saying, “The first time it is happenstance, second time it is coincidence, third time it is enemy action.”  Mr. Jaitley said something else. He forgot about ‘enemy action’ altogether.

·        This battle is like that of Meghnad. You know about Meghnad in Ramayan. He fought from behind the clouds. The actual Meghnad is Narendra Modi. He is hiding behind Arun Jaitley who is the cloud. He does not have the courage. The Prime Minister should have the courage to face this Parliament.

·        Why did Prime Minister Narendra Modi announce purchase of Rafale aircraft on April 11, 2015?  He had not taken the Defence Minister on that trip. If there was such a hurry, let us see when the former Defence Minister signed the agreement. He signed the agreement on 23rd September 2016. So, they were in a hurry. But it took them a year and four months to finalize a deal already announced by the Prime Minister. So, the hurry was not there.  Or was there was something else going on?

·        What Arun Jaitley did in his reply was what every good lawyer should do. He has cherry-picked the facts and choose only those facts which suit his argument. What he failed to mention was that at that point of time the Government of India used the life-cycle cost method to make Defence acquisition.

·        The Prime Minister claims that Make in India is his invention.  Since Heru’s time we have has the concept of Self-Reliance, but the Prime Minister does not want to acknowledge that.  In the Rafale deal he has not negotiated for transfer of technology – which is a serious loss for the country.  However, he has come out with something new -  He has done it for Self and for Reliance. 

Jan 3, 2018

Mala Jay [email protected]

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