Over the past few months, the Rafale deal has transformed into a political slugfest. The wise men and women of the Congress party and their well-wishers in the media appear to have concluded that portraying the deal as a scam is essential to establish Congress President Rahul Gandhi as a serious politician.
Recently, former President of France, Hollande, added fuel to the fire by claiming that India proposed that Dassault partner with Reliance for the project. However, he later backtracked from his earlier statement and admitted that he was not aware of any such pressure on Dassault. Rahul Gandhi, however, was quick to latch on to Hollande’s allegations and tweeted that Prime Minister Modi himself had intervened to deliver billions of dollars to the Ambanis. There was only one problem with this fantastic story concocted by Rahul Gandhi. There doesn’t appear to be much truth to it. OpIndia.com has published a comprehensive fact-check of the allegations on the Reliance-Rafale controversy.
As it turns out, even during the UPA era pact, Dassault had did not want to tie up with HAL and the deal was in limbo because of this point of contention.
If one was under the impression that the allegations couldn’t get more ridiculous, then they are obviously unaware of antics of the Congress party. The Goa unit of the party has now claimed that Narendra Modi and Amit Shah were not asking for the resignation of the ailing Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parikkar because “he has crucial information on the Rafale fighter jet deal which he could use to ‘blackmail’ them”.
The Congress is perhaps convinced of a scam in the Rafale deal because its own track record of defence deals is rather dubious, so to speak. The Bofors scam, the controversy surrounding Augusta Westland is quite well known.
One such deal that is not very well known is the Pilatus trainer aircraft deal in 2012. In 2016, reports had emerged which claimed that the government had ordered a probe into the Pilatus deal and in July 2017 and it was reported that the CBI had begun an investigation into the Rs. 2900 crore Pilatus deal. The deal allegedly involved an absconding defence dealer, Sanjay Bhandari, and a preliminary enquiry was registered following the examination of an Income-Tax investigation report on Bhandari.
It is pertinent to mention here that Bhandari, purportedly has links to Robert Vadra, husband of Priyanka Gandhi, and Dassault refused to partner with Offsets India Solutions (OIS), whose promoter is Bhandari after they discovered his proximity to Vadra. Confidential documents were recovered by the Income Tax Department during raids on his offices which were part of an investigation in a tax evasion case against Bhandari and his company. Email exchanges between Vadra and Bhandari were also discovered. In January this year, Sanjay Bhandari was declared a ‘proclaimed offender’ by a Delhi court under the Official Secrets Act, due to failure to attend before the court. The defence ministry has since suspended all dealings with OIS.
The Pilatus deal has shrouded in controversy from the time it materialized. Korea Aerospace Industries, its closest rival, had strongly protested the deal claiming that Pilatus had submitted an incomplete bid and demanded its disqualification. South Korea’s defence minister personally contacted A.K. Antony, his Indian counterpart, requesting a “high-level review”. However, these objections were overruled and Pilatus was awarded the contract.
In 2015, after Finance wing of the Ministry of Defense flagged the Pilatus deal, the Indian Express reported, “…nine components, now part of an IAF proposal to pay Pilatus under the maintenance head were not calculated during the request for proposal (RFP) stage before declaring it the lowest bidder.” This is the very same issue the Koreans had raised in 2011. It should be noted that Bhandari is under CBI investigation for alleged malpractices in the selection of the Swiss aircraft, Pilatus PC-7″.
One wonders if the high decibel attack on the NDA government’s Rafale deal by the Congress Party is motivated by a need to deflect attention from the skeletons in their own closet. An investigation that was initiated in 2016. It could very well be that the allegations against Rafale have surfaced as a consequence of the NDA government ordering probes into shady arms deals made by the UPA government. Rahul Gandhi may be a ‘clown prince‘ after all but the strategy appears to be succeeding in serving a greater purpose.