White lies come a cropper

K. Raveendran

We know how the world views Taj Mahal as a beautiful monument of love. We also know that the world considers Bangalore and Hyderabad as Indian versions of Silicon Valley. But we never knew that there is a world famous stretch of land near an airstrip in Nagpur and it happens to be owned by Anil Ambani. The discovery has been made possible by the Rafale deal with Dassault Aviation.
In a reported conversation with CNBC-TV18 in Paris, Dassault CEO Eric Trappier says his company picked Reliance as its partner because the Anil Ambani-led company had land near an airfield in Nagpur and not because of anything else.
The Dassault CEO’s desperation to deflect the criticism that Prime Minister Modi had foisted Reliance on the French company as a partner for the defence offset contract worth Rs30,000 crore as a quid pro quo is understandable, but he cannot be pardoned for making a lie sound so blatant. How did Trappier learn about this crucial stretch of land unless he had read about it in his school text book? If that is not the case, someone has brought to his attention that there is such a land and that was the only available choice if his company was interested in the deal. And it requires no rocket science to deduce who that someone is. There are hundreds of such lands in different parts of the country and owned by different people. And why on earth only Nagpur, except that it is close to father land?
Trappier is even clumsier in defending Anil Ambani’s company, formed barely 10 days before the contract was announced, as the preferred partner. He could not have said that the company opted for Reliance on the basis of its track record. So he comes up with a most curious one. It is the lack of experience that makes the mark! In fact, he is reported to have said that the Anil Ambani firm was the ‘most qualified vendor’ because Dassault, with over 90 years of experience in the sector, was bringing the technical know-how. That is how, according to him, land became the only consideration. It is said that it is difficult to teach new things to those with pre-conceived notions. But one never knew that this applies to industrial activity, where prior experience can be a major deterrent. Public sector HAL has been a victim of the application of this new French theory.
The Dassault CEO must take a crash course on how to tell a lie convincingly. And plenty of teaching material is available with his acquaintances and partners on this side so that he does not have to take time off his busy work. The government and the ruling party have some of the best talent in the trade.
But despite all that Dassault and a whole battalion of Modi defenders have said and done so far, the charge of impropriety in the Rafale deal is sticking out like a sour thumb. Initially when Congress president Rahul Gandhi raised a problem, quoting from an interview with French President Emmanuel Macron, asserting that there was no secrecy clause in the Rafale deal about the terms of the contract, it failed to kick up much dust, especially as the French government confirmed that the deal legally bound the two nations to protect information that can impact security and operational details of the deal.
Then came the startling disclosure by former President Francois Hollande that the Indian government had proposed the name of the Anil Ambani group as partner, contradicting whatever the Modi government has been maintaining since the controversy erupted. Subsequent disclosures further established that the Prime Minister had personally intervened in the matter and re-negotiated the deal, including its basic components and costs, to include friend Anil Ambani’s company as a mandatory requirement.
Rahul Gandhi has been consistently raising the heat by alleging that ‘Modi the chowkidar’ had robbed the people of India of Rs30,000 crore to put into the pocket of Anil Ambani. He harped on the theme at every public meeting, but the campaign lacked the ‘critical mass’ to turn it into a full-scale scam, like Bofors or 2G, as Modi had done in the run-up to the 2014 elections. Also, party insiders entertained a certain element of doubt over its efficacy as the key thrust of the party’s 2019 campaign. But with more disclosures on their way, the issue has assumed an importance that even Rahul may not have imagined when he took up the cause initially. Now, with the CBI controversy getting entangled with it, Rafale seems to have become the best bet for Congress to beat Modi, who is appearing more and more vulnerable with each passing day.
Modi’s midnight drama to stem the rot in CBI, with his own blue-eyed boy Rakesh Asthana and boss Alok Verma battling out in the open, has sullied the prime minister’s reputation as he is seen stonewalling a move by the CBI chief to probe the decision-making process in the Rafale deal. The drubbing from the Supreme Court, which virtually struck down the government’s action against Verma, is not helping Modi’s cause, although Blog and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was on hand  to interpret the overall decision of the court to be in favour of the government and in the interest of transparency. Caesar’s wives must be above blame, he says, but sees no ground for Caesar himself to be clean. (IPA)

Sunday, 11 November, 2018