On August 29, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley issued a point-by-point rebuttal to Rahul Gandhi's allegations and challenged the Congress president to answer 15 questions before levelling corruption charges on the purchase of the Rafale fighter aircraft from France.
A day later, the Congress upped the ante against the BJP over the controversial deal and staged a protest in Delhi. Party workers also tried to gherao Prime Minister Narendra Modi's residence, but were stopped by security forces. The attempt to lay a siege of the Prime Minister residence is part of the Congress party's plan to make the allegations on the Rafale deal stick.
Plane talk: Police detain Indian Youth Congress members during a protest against Rafale deal scam, at Akbar Road in New Delhi on August 30, 2018. (Credit: PTI photo)
Allegations and counter-allegations
The Congress Party has alleged that price of fighters bought from France jumped several fold when compared with the deal being negotiated by the previous Manmohan Singh government.
The Congress has claimed the “per aircraft pricing” in the in the 126 MMRCA project, under which 108 of the jets were manufactured by the Bangalore based defence public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited was about Rs 526 crore. The one worked out by the Modi-led NDA government, which does not include transfer of technology (ToT) as was being decided upon during the previous government, was about Rs 710 crore. But when the weapons package, maintenance of fleet is included the cost of 36 fighters works out to about Rs 1,610 crore per aircraft. The total cost of the 36 fighters with the weapons package and other assorted add-ons works out to about euro 7.87 billion.
Taking a dig: While the Congress has decided to make Rafale deal a poll issue, the government's response mostly has been in the form of jibes and taunts.
The government claims that weapons and maintenance package etc., weren’t included in the previous deal. And, that transfer of technology wasn’t included because in the current purchase contract because the number of fighters has been reduced from 126 to just 36, making ToT unviable.
Is there a secrecy clause?
India and France have signed an inter-governmental agreement wherein both sides have agreed not to make public details. Such secrecy clauses are normal and aimed at protecting commercial interest of the company and countries. For instance, France could be selling the aircraft at certain price to India but at a different price to another country.
But that doesn’t mean prices cannot be disclosed. Earlier speaking to India Today, French President Emmanuel Macron had said if the government wanted to divulge some of the critical information covered under the secrecy clause of the deal, France would not object to it.
What is way forward?
The Congress has decided to make the Rafale deal a poll issue. On the other hand, much of the response from the government has been in the form of jibes and taunts. The intractable stand of the Congress as well the jibes and taunts of the government are only ensuring that the truth will drown in a sea of hyperbole.
No objections: French President Emmanuel Macron had earlier said Modi government can share Rafale deal details with Opposition. (Credit: PTI photo)
Last year, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, addressing a press conference, said the Defence Secretary would be giving out the pricing details. The promise wasn’t honoured. Later, however, the government cited the secrecy clause in Parliament when refusing to disclose the details.
In the past, on several occasions, the government has reached out to the Opposition benches to pass on critical information that could not made public in the floor of the House. In this case too, perhaps a similar step would be the best way out.
After all, democracy is also about building consensus and confidence.
Also read: Rafale row in Parliament revealed one thing. Government, Opposition, media lack defence knowledge