The Rafale bogey

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Gaurav Bhatia

There is nothing more vital and sacrosanct to a nation than its security and sovereignty. In the last few months, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has been hopelessly trying to raise a false bogey about the Rafale deal signed by the Narendra Modi government. The Congress government could not ink the said deal even after a decade of its rule, thus seriously jeopardising national security.
It is also a well known fact that 42 squadrons of the Indian Air Force came down to 33 during the UPA regime. Given this urgency, under the dynamic leadership of Narendra Modi, and in the interest of national security, a government to government agreement was signed in 17 months flat — something that couldn’t be finalised in the 10 years of the Congress government.
Most importantly, the Rafale deal has offered the people of India an important opportunity. It has permitted our citizens a stark and objective comparison between the fabric of leadership of Rahul Gandhi and that of Modi. At one end, we have a frustrated Opposition that, in the absence of even an iota of governmental corruption over four years, is willing to rake up non-issues even to the extent of compromising the security of the country. On the other, people see a tall leader committing himself to the nation, overcoming red-tape and tirelessly accelerating initiatives that empower the country and its people.
The Supreme Court, while deciding the writ petition filed before it, has finally adjudicated on the three main allegations made by the political class and the petitioners regarding the Rafale deal.
The first allegation against the Modi government pertained to the procedure followed in finalising Dassault as the original equipment manufacturer. The Supreme Court has categorically stated that because of the stalemate, “In this interregnum period, adversaries of the country, qua defence issues, inducted modern aircraft and upgraded their older versions. This included induction of even 5th Generation Stealth Fighter Aircraft of almost 20 squadrons, effectively reducing the combat potential of our defence forces.”
This necessitated a response from Prime Minister Modi, which resulted in the conclusion of the Inter-Governmental Agreement for the supply of 36 Rafale aircraft. It is noteworthy that between May 2015 and April 2016, the Modi government, realising the necessity and urgency to procure 5th generation fighter aircraft, in a period of less than a year, conducted 74 meetings, including 48 internal INT (Indian Negotiating Team) meetings and 26 external INT meetings with the French side, which resulted in signing of the agreement. The SC, putting a stamp of approval on the Rafale deal, said: “Broadly, the processes have been followed… merely conjecturing that the initial RFP could have resulted in a contract is of no use. The hard fact is that not only was the contract not coming forth but the negotiations had come practically to an end.”
It is evident from the material placed before the Court that confidentiality was a sine qua non under the security agreement signed between both the governments on January 25, 2008. Despite this provision in the agreement, the government acting responsibly and for the sake of transparency, shared the pricing details in a sealed cover with the Supreme Court. The Court, after perusing the material placed before it, came to the conclusion and approved the claim of the respondent government that there is a commercial advantage in the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft and that these 36 aircraft are being procured at better terms. The Court also recognised the need and importance of the defence deal being in the confidential domain. If the Court could feel the need to keep it in the confidential domain, what was the Rahul Gandhi’s political compulsion to press for disclosing the pricing details of the Rafale aircraft?
The third issue that has been decided by the Supreme Court is the selection of the Indian offset partner. The Court said, “We do not find any substantial material on record to show that this is a case of commercial favouritism to any party by the Indian government, as the option to choose the IOP does not rest with the Indian government.” The Supreme Court also observed that the “perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a fishing and roving enquiry by this Court”.
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Rather than raising frivolous charges, Rahul Gandhi should answer why the Congress couldn’t finalise the Rafale deal in 10 years when they were in power? If there are any illegalities in the deal, as alleged by Rahul Gandhi, why did he not move the Supreme Court and place the evidence he and the Congress possessed with respect to the case before the Court?
In a recent judgment (Romila Thapar vs Union of India), the Supreme Court deprecated the practice of the police to conduct press conferences in matters where investigation was ongoing. It said: “The police are not adjudicators nor do they pronounce upon guilt. In the present case, police briefings to the media have become a source of manipulating public opinion by besmirching the reputations of individuals involved in the process of investigation. What follows is unfortunately a trial by the media.”
Rahul Gandhi is a habitual offender, who has repeatedly made a mockery of the apex court by conducting press conferences while the matter is sub judice. The Supreme Court should take suo moto cognisance of this contemptuous behaviour.