PM should clear the cobweb

The bitter war of words between the Congress and the BJP on the controversial Rafale deal is turning uglier by the day, with mutual accusations like ‘thief’, ‘liar’ and ‘Pak agent’ being freely traded. The main points of the controversy are three. First, whether the agreement on purchase of Rafale aircraft was unilaterally changed by the PM without consulting the Cabinet Committee on Security, the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Minister. Second, whether the price per aircraft finally settled was much higher than the one negotiated by the UPA Government. And the third and the last: How and why the public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) was dropped and a private Indian firm with no experience in aircraft manufacture taken as the offset partner of Dassault, the manufacturer of Rafale.
Since the final deal was settled during the Prime Minister’s visit to France, he is the best person to clear the cobweb of controversy. What is a matter of great worry is that the sanctioned fleet strength of the IAF has dwindled from 42 to 33. To meet the threats posed by Pakistan in the west and China in the north, the IAF desperately needs more fighter aircraft to secure our defences. The selection and purchase of a suitable Multi-Medium Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) has been hanging fire for years. The Rafale was finally selected out of about ten or twelve competitors and elaborate field trials were conducted. Then the choice fell on Rafale. It was agreed that India would buy eighteen aircraft from France in a fly-away condition while the remaining 108 aircraft will be manufactured in India by HAL in collaboration with Dassault.
A change of Government in India in 2014 led to the new Government taking a fresh look into the matter. Ultimately, Prime Minister Modi struck a new deal with the French under which Dassault will deliver 36 Rafale aircraft in a flyaway condition and the rest will be manufactured by the new offset partner, the Reliance Defence. It is here that the Opposition is charging the NDA Government with wrongdoing. It is time that the Prime Minister himself addressed the question, instead of deputing his Finance Minister and Defence Minister to reply to the Opposition charge. A straight reply from the Prime Minister will put an end to all controversies and clear the air. This unhealthy spat between the ruling party and the principal opposition party should be put an end to quickly. And only the PM can do it.

Wednesday, 26 September, 2018