‘Something wrong in Rafale deal’: Rahul Gandhi attacks PM Modi
India’s defence ministry said in a statement that revealing details of the agreement with France to buy Rafale fighter aircraft would affect the country’s military preparedness even as Congress president Rahul Gandhi reiterated his allegation that “something wrong” has happened in the deal.
The defence ministry spokesperson insisted that the deal secured by the Modi government with France was better in terms of capability and price than that notionally negotiated by the UPA. “This would normally not have merited a response but for the serious damage being caused by the misleading statements, sought to be repeatedly perpetrated on a serious matter of national security,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The spokesperson added that the UPA too, had not revealed details of defence deals. “The demand that the government disclose the details and value of the contract for the Rafale aircraft contracted in 2016 is unrealistic. In keeping with confidentiality requirements, the UPA government had also expressed its inability to disclose the price of various defence procurements, including in its responses to Parliament questions,” the ministry said in its statement.
Minutes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reply to the motion of thanks on the President’s address in the Lok Sabha, Gandhi accused him of “protecting” those behind alleged corruption in the Rafale deal.
The Congress-led UPA government signed a deal with Dassault Aviation in 2012 for the purchase of 126 Rafale aircraft, but the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance claimed that it was not a viable pact and structured to fail. The NDA in 2016 bought 36 Rafale fighters in a G2G (government to government) deal. The principal opposition party also claimed that the new deal meant each fighter would cost ?1,570 crore as against ?526 crore under the older agreement.
“Provision of exact item-wise cost and other information will reveal, inter alia, details regarding the various customisations and weapons systems specially designed to augment the effectiveness and lethality of the assets, impact our military preparedness and compromise our national security,” the defence ministry’s statement added.
The spokesperson said such details would also come under the ambit of the security agreement signed in 2008. “Thus, in not revealing the item-wise details of the contract, the government is merely following in letter and spirit the confidentiality provisions of a bilateral India-France agreement of 2008 signed by the previous government.”
The spokesperson claimed that the deal secured by the Modi government was better in terms of “capability, price, equipment, delivery, maintenance, training, etc., than that notionally negotiated” by the UPA in a process it could not conclude in ten years. “Moreover, the present government completed these negotiations in just about one year.”
Media reports suggest that while Qatar had bought the Rafale aircraft, including infrastructure, training and weapons, at EUR?262.5 million, Egypt and India had both sealed the deal at EUR? 216.7 million.
Other media reports pointed out that the price escalation of 300% happened during the UPA rule. While 126 aircraft cost $10.4 billion in January 2012, the price escalated to $15 billion in April 2013 and to $28-30 billion in January 2014.
Both sets of media reports were first highlighted by Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a senior research fellow at a think-tank on Twitter.
The defence ministry also reiterated that agreement was strictly in accordance with the Defence Procurement Procedure in all aspects such as mandating, conducting and monitoring of negotiations and seeking all necessary approvals, including that of the Cabinet Committee on Security, before entering into the pact. The aircraft had already been evaluated successfully by the IAF during 2009-10.
The Congress had also claimed the NDA government dropped a key provision in the 2012 agreement, which mandated the transfer of technology to a reputable public sector undertaking, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. One of the reasons for the delay in the 2012 deal was that Dassault was not keen on transferring technology to an Indian company that wasn’t its partner, the party said and linked the NDA’s deal with Dassault to a subsequent partnership between the French company and the Anil Ambani promoted Reliance Defence Limited.
But the defence ministry clarified that there was no provision for transfer of technology but only to manufacture under licence. “The government was unable to agree on the terms for even that in its negotiations with the vendor, resulting in the long-drawn exercise under the earlier government ultimately turning futile,” it said
“Further, no Indian Offset Partner for the 2016 deal for 36 Rafale aircraft has been so far selected by the vendor (Dassault Aviation) because as per the applicable guidelines, DA is free to select the Indian Offset Partners and provide their details at the time of seeking offset credits, or one year prior to discharge of offset obligation,” the statement said.