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Columnist slams Shekhar Gupta’s article on the Rafale deal

Shekhar Gupta recently wrote an article in his digital venture ThePrint titled ‘There is a humongous scam in the Rafale deal, it is called stupidity.’ The article attempted to slam the BJP government over the Rafale deal which it termed as a ‘Pusillanimous, unimaginative and unsuccessful defence purchase.’

Columnist Mihir Shar had shared a tweet thread on how the article by Shekhar Gupta was riddled with false claims and carries several factual inaccuracies. Shah said that far from being ‘hard-hitting’ and ‘incisive’ the article was, in fact, wrong in several claims.

The article by Gupta started with claiming that any teenaged kid interested in defence, with the help of a smartphone, can tell the details of the Meteor missile system coming with the Rafale jets and the modern-day arms markets maintain no secrets about platforms, weapons and accessories. To which, Shah replied that the teenage nerds that Gupta is referring to can know only the advertised details and facts available online in Wikipedia and other such platforms. He added that the actual details of a weapon’s capabilities, performance levels and specs.

In a subtle manner, Shah pointed out that if all the information about the aircraft and its defence system is available so readily, why is the opposition incessantly demanding the government to divulge it. Gupta’s article has claimed that the only reason behind the Modi government is not sharing the details of the deal is arrogance and the BJP is in-fact, thinking, “How can anyone question us in a defence deal? Are we like Congress in the Bofors decade?”. The article states that all spendings by the government are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and it is the BJP’s arrogance that is citing a ‘secrecy clause’ in a 10Billion USD deal between two democratic governments.

Shah further states that ‘parliamentary scrutiny’ does not mean public release and even if a parliamentary standing committee wants to vet the deal, they will have to refrain from releasing details to the public.

Shah further adds that if specific members of parliament want a private briefing over the Rafale deal, as pointed out by columnist Abhijit Iyer-Mitra in his tweet, they would have to obtain an OSA clearance, which is a long and thorough national security clearance procedure. Iyer-Mitra had pointed out earlier that though the security clause in the deal permits briefing to a number of MPs, in reality, politicians will not opt for it because of the cumbersome security clearance procedure that interferes with that privacy and restricts their activities.

Additionally, Shah points out that the private briefing is a privilege and not a right and thus is subject to the government’s discretion. The government is free to deny such briefing citing national security issues, which, Shah states, limits the options available for the Congress to exploit the issue politically and public support is not very much in favour of the party at the moment.

Mihir Shah further states that the issues of ‘audit scrutiny’ raised by the article are also baseless as the CAG is already auditing the contract. Further, the article’s claim that ‘all the procedures like Cabinet Committee on Security approval were bypassed in sealing the deal is false because a CCS approval is not needed for signing a MoU. It is needed for the intergovernmental agreement and it was obtained then.

Shah further refutes the claim made by the article that the government is giving the excuse that HAL did not have the back-end infrastructure and states that the government never made that claim. Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman had explained that the reason for HAL not getting to manufacture 108 jets as per the previous deal was the negotiations between Dassault and HAL breaking down.

The article also states that the government is using the ’emergency purchase alibi’ to state that the Indian Air Force badly needed the deal to go through while the IAF has been struggling with lack of needed flight squadrons for almost 15 years now. Shah refutes this insinuation by stating that the Rafale deal is not the only way the government is attempting to strengthen its air force with.

Shah also disagreed with Gupta’s claim that India is yet to see any private sector company making anything major for the military. He states that the private sector is doing really well in defence manufacturing and robust manufacturing capabilities take years to build. He gave several examples of defence equipment and weapons systems that have been manufactured by Indian companies like the TATA, L & T and Godrej.

Shah expertly refutes the claims and allegations made by the article and concludes that though the previous governments did have a role to play in making Indian private sector manufacturers reach the capability levels at which they are now, the Modi government must be applauded for the aggressiveness it has shown in bring along global partnerships and giving Indian manufacturers the much-needed boost.

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