The Rafale issue

The Rafale issue is slowly snowballing into a big controversy that will be one of the major issues the opposition will highlight during the election campaign. How much the Government may be trying to pass it off as an ordinary commercial transaction in which nothing irregular has taken place, one uncomfortable fact after another is coming to the public domain almost every day, to the discomfort and chagrin of the ruling party. To blunt the opposition propaganda on Rafale, the Government will have to give satisfactory answers to three questions. First, why the number of planes to be acquired from France was arbitrarily reduced from 126 to 18 in a ‘fly-away’ condition. Second, why was the price of each plane raised three times than what was agreed to by Dassault in its agreement during the UPA regime. Third, why a corporate giant which had no experience in aircraft manufacture was given the contract for manufacturing the remaining 108 planes.
The opposition in insisting on setting up a joint parliamentary committee to go into the Rafale deal. The Government is firmly opposing it and in view of the fact that the tenure of the present House is soon coming to an end, there can be no JPC on Rafale. But the issue will not die out. The opposition, especially the Congress party, is certain to keep it alive. If the BJP is not able to provide convincing answers to these three questions, public perception is likely to be that the Government had a complicit role in the deal. The usual ploy of the Prime Minister, to blame the “Family” and the Congress party for all that may have gone wrong in India since independence is unlikely to cut much ice with the people.
The fleet strength of the Indian Air Force has been depleted to an alarming low. The IAF had been pressing for acquisition of new fighter aircraft. The UPA Government realized the urgent need to meet the IAF demand and that is why the Rafale was chosen after giving trial to several other aircraft manufactured by other companies. An agreement had been reached by the Dassault with the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd which has decades of experience in aircraft manufacture. Why that agreement was scrapped and a private company with no experience or expertise in making aeroplanes was chosen instead of HAL is something that has to be explained to the people. It will be better for the present government to bring the facts to the public domain, rather than to leave it to the next government.

Sunday, 10 February, 2019