For a plane that is yet to fire a shot in anger, the Rafale has shredded the BJP’s defence
The controversy over a deal that the Narendra Modi Government struck with French plane maker Dassault Aviation to acquire 36 Rafale fighter jets shows no signs of dying down, the verdict by the Supreme Court be damned. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and his party have decided to make the acquisition of the fighter jet an electoral issue and they are running with it. Helped as they are, in no uncertain way, by the ineptitude of the Government in answering the occasionally wild allegations levelled by Gandhi, his partymen and surrogates. Indeed, it is the latter that is the utter and complete stupidity with which the Government has tried to deal with the issue that makes one wonder whether there is some truth to the Congress allegations. The reticence with which the Modi Government treats the media has only made matters worse, even though it is for the most part, defence journalists, who have actually given the smartest answers to the allegations.
It should also be clear that the noise about the Rafale fighter jet is not going to disappear, no matter how much Prime Minister Narendra Modi wills it to. At least it is only the controversy surrounding the acquisition that will be an electoral issue and not the choice of the fighter jet itself. However, it should be noted that other Opposition parties, and even those previously non-aligned, such as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), have climbed onto the Rafale bandwagon as they see that the Modi Government is unwilling to answer questions or just hopes to brazen it out. One reason for that is that it is an election season and the other is that things have certainly changed from the time in 2016-17, when everyone believed that ‘there is no alternative’ to Narendra Modi and the BJP could easily win a second term in office. Even though elections are still four months away, one can say with a degree of certainty that Modi and the BJP are on the back foot. While all indications are that the BJP could become the single largest party in the next poll, unless something dramatic happens, reports of the Congress doing a lot better exist. And it is for this reason possibly that Gandhi is continuing with the Rafale attack because he knows that in politics, if you keep slinging mud, some of it will stick.
The BJP really needs to sharpen its act in response to the allegations — it has been incapable of answering the charges with a degree of solidity. The party leadership should realise by now that no matter what the truth of the matter, the Opposition has found a stick to beat it with. The thing that they are beating is Modi’s carefully cultivated image of being incorruptible. It is almost certain that the Congress will raise more and more questions about Modi and his party going forward. Modi and Amit Shah have been proven to be extremely good while on the offensive, electorally, but have failed miserably when it comes to playing the defence. Like any keen observer of sports should know, it is not only about the offence, even though that gets the headlines. A poor defence can make even the best offence impotent. And while we do not know how the Rafale will perform as a fighter and, hopefully, it might never have to in real conflict, we do know that it has shredded the BJP’s defence.