The Rafale Rigmarole

Despite the Government’s stout denial that there is any wrongdoing about the Rafale deal, the controversy refuses to die down. The Government maintains that the per-aircraft price of Rafale cannot be disclosed because it is covered by the confidentiality clause. The Congress says the price of the aircraft (without its avionics and missiles etc) is not secret. The French Government “clarification” that security issues are confidential does not clarify whether the price is considered a security issue. So the price controversy is kept alive. The Congress has taken out more arrows from its quiver and shot at the Modi Government. The party claims that just ten days before the Prime Minister signed the Rafale deal in Paris on April 10, 2015, Anil Ambani had floated a company named Reliance Defence Ltd with a capital of Rs. 5 lakhs. This company entered into the Rafale deal with the French company and benefited to the tune of Rs. 45,000 crore. The Congress further alleges that the Anil Ambani group has no experience of manufacturing defence equipment. The Ambanis counter by saying they have experience in building ships for the Navy.
The moot question is whether the new Rafale deal entered into by the NDA Government enhances the price of each aircraft hugely over the price settled by the previous UPA Government, thereby causing preventable wastage of public money. On the face of it, there should be no problem in disclosing the price without putting all other technical details in the public domain. It is being said that the Rafales to be purchased under the new deal are better than the ones contracted for by the UPA. But neither has the French nor the Indian Government formally gone on record stating that it is an entirely new aircraft that is being bought.
The Indian Government should first state unambiguously whether or not the price of the aircraft is covered by the secrecy clause and cannot be disclosed. Secondly, whether the aircraft now being acquired is the one contracted for by the UPA Government or it is a new edition of the aircraft. Disclosing these two facts cannot compromise security. Parrying straight answers to these questions will only deepen the suspicion that there is something that the Indian Government is trying to hide. For a Government that is going to seek a fresh mandate from the people in a few months’ time, a hide-and-seek game about the price may prove politically costly.

Saturday, 28 July, 2018