Though the video attempts to defend the Modi govt’s Rafale deal, it ends up raising one more important question. Who is answerable to us? Modi government or Pallavi Joshi?
The Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s back to back rallies in poll-bound Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and the southern states of Karnataka and Telangana have shed the unambiguity surrounding the 2019 Lok Sabha campaign. Mistake not, the public speeches going hammer and tongue against the Modi government are an indication that the Congress has already launched its poll campaign. The controversial Rafale deal has been at the center of the Anti-BJP campaign by the Congress.
Since the hug and wink episode in the Lok Sabha during the No-confidence motion debate, Rahul Gandhi has been constantly mentioning the Rafale Deal in his each and every address. Talking at Jaipur, during a campaign trail, he said that Prime Minister Modi couldn’t meet eyes in the parliament when asked about Rafale deal. The “Chowkidar is Bhaagidar” rhetoric followed.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 8, 2018
Since the time it was first brought to the notice, the Rafale deal has been carrying mystery about its pricing and accusations of crony capitalism surrounding it. The opposition has fanned the fire more. So much so, that rebel BJP leaders Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha even held a press conference alleging that the infamous Bofors scam that brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government pales to insignificance as compared to the Rafale deal. Though BJP would like to ignore the rebel leaders, it cannot turn a blind eye towards a monumental question that awaits the party ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha Election- Will Rafale turn out to be Modi’s Bofors nightmare? Well, the signs are it will!
The defense deals in India are controversy’s favorite child. Moreover, they have not only led to the fall of the incumbent government but have severely dented the credibility. Thus, defense deals also become a favorite tool of the opposition to attack the ruling party. Then be it Bofors, Coffin Gate, Tehelka investigation or now the Rafale deal. However, the Rafale deal, the defense deal between India and France broadly is equated with the first defense scandal that hit the country- Bofors, majorly because of the cronyism that played out.
What was Bofors scam?
The Rajiv Gandhi government decided to replace the old field guns and artillery with the induction of a bigger caliber 155 mm howitzers. A deal was signed between the Indian government and Swedish Armament major AB Bofors for $285 million i.e. roughly about 1500 crores rupees. Even by today’s standard, the amount is huge. When the deal was signed, India was still in a pre-liberalised era. The amount by the then standards was humongous.
The blow to the deal came almost a year later in 1987 when a Swedish state radio broadcast made a damning allegation against AB Bofors claiming the company has paid kickbacks to get the contract. The allegation also involved key Indian policymakers and top defense officials. The scandal hit like a storm back home in India. After the news spread, the Indian Government promptly blacklisted AB Bofors. But the investigation carried out by Indian Newspapers revealed that the rot was deeper and scam amounting to 64 crores was unearthed. The name of middlemen called Ottavio Quattrochi cropped up in the investigation. His proximity towards the Gandhi family also led to speculations that he was a powerful broker in the 1980s between big businesses and the Indian government.
The scandal took center stage in no time. The Rajiv Gandhi government under the growing pressure from public and opposition had to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the allegations on August 6, 1987. Though the probe was going on, the scandal has already damaged the reputation of the Rajiv Gandhi government and it cost him his PM post in the 1989 Lok Sabha Elections.
Though Rajiv Gandhi was acquitted by the Delhi HC in 2002, the Bofors case has been stuck to Congress since then. It is a stain on Congress that will never be washed away.
What are the allegations in Rafale deal?
The Rafale deal differs from the Bofors in a sense that more than a corruption case, it is an example of gross misuse of the authority and crony capitalism. The Rafale Deal was made during UPA 2 with France’s Dassault. The Indian government had put out a tender for 126 fighter jets out of which it had planned to buy 18 Rafales in fly-away condition from Dassault, while the remaining were to be built in India along with the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
However, the deal was scrapped and a completely new deal was announced by PM Modi in 2015 on his visit to France. According to the new deal, India would be getting 36 Rafale jets from France, all in fly-away condition. Under the terms of this Rs 59,000 crore deal, all the planes would be built in France, but Dassault would have to offset about 50% of that cost in India. According to this clause, Dassault had to ensure that 50% of the payment received from India will be invested in Indian Defence System i.e. Dassault had to find an Indian partner to complete the deal.
According to the allegations by the opposition, mainly Congress, the HAL was dropped from the deal and Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aeronautics was awarded the contract. According to the reports, the company has never had any experience in the field of aircraft manufacturing. There have been reports that the defense minister had no idea about the new deal finalized by PM Modi in 2015. There are constant demands raised by the opponents to reveal the price of the exact price of the Rafale deal which the Modi government has been consistently denying citing secrecy pact.
Though the Modi government says that the Rafale deal is not a scam, the persistent refusal to reveal the pricing of the deal and even come out with a proper explanation has only contributed to growing suspicion and mystery surrounding the deal. The assurance by defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman to reveal the prices and later backing off from it has given an edge to the opposition who have stepped up their attacks.
In light of confusion, the BJP yesterday released a video on its twitter handle handing out an “easy” explanation of the Rafale deal featuring actress Pallavi Joshi. The video titled “Rafale deal for dummies”, features a monologue by Pallavi Joshi, who tries to explain the Rafale deal with the example of a housing society secretary looking to sign with a French company in order to upgrade the society building’s security lock system.
She goes on to explain how her predecessor has spent years in talk with the French manufacturer with nothing actually happening in the deal. Joshi asks, is the point if the locks do not come with accessories and the promise of maintenance and upgrades?
— BJP (@BJP4India) August 13, 2018
She says she spoke to the French company’s boss and negotiated a fresh deal for locks that also included other benefits as well as a promise that some of the locks would be made in India. The entire deal was cheaper than what the previous secretary had negotiated, Joshi says. “And, that is the Rafale deal.”
India saved Rs 12,500 crore under the Rafale deal signed by the Narendra Modi government, Joshi says, suddenly dispensing with her housing society example.
Though the video attempts to defend the Modi govt’s Rafale deal, it ends up raising one more important question. Who is answerable to us? Modi government or Pallavi Joshi? If the comparison between the lock system and Rafale jet is not amusing enough, the ruling party of India expects the citizen of the country to buy the explanation. All this while the Defence Minister and Prime minister maintain a conscientious silence over the details and dodge the questions over the deal.
If this is the way, the government responds when confronted with the allegation, the Rafale deal has very much chances of going the Bofors way!