Supreme Court’s request to Government for details on the Rafale deal sans price and technicals deflates the row
The Supreme Court yesterday asked the Government to reveal how it selected the Dassault Rafale as India’s next frontline fighter jet. But by not insisting on the process of the aircraft’s technical and price evaluation, it has effectively given the Government a pass on the allegations of a scam in the process. Of course, the Opposition is still using a document released by an obscure French journal to buttress its claim that there was impropriety in the selection of the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence to be the main offset partner, and how Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Government’s defence public sector unit (DPSU), was ignored, there has been a failure to acknowledge that all these 36 aircraft will in essence come to India in flyaway condition. It is also now becoming a slight concern whether other fighter-jet manufacturers, which were jilted at the selection stage, are egging on the Opposition in order to get the contract cancelled.
Thankfully, training for Indian Air Force pilots, who will fly the Indian Rafales, have started in earnest in France. Despite the Prime Minister praising the abilities of the Indian Air Force in a recent episode of Mann ki Baat, the fact is that India’s Air Defence and aerial offensive capabilities are a horrendous patchwork of antiquated systems and insufficient aircraft. The Rafale will not be the panacea that some expect it to be, and we need to purchase many more aircraft. As for the charges that the Government has not given HAL work, this Government has to its credit pushed harder for the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft than any Government in the recent past. As for farming work out to the private sector instead of DPSU’s like HAL, it should also be remembered that India is still the world’s largest arms importer and has until recently failed pretty badly in building a decent domestic arms industry. It could be sensibly argued that India’s massive arms imports are a leading cause of India’s trade deficit and a contributor to the fall of the rupee.
Of course, that does not preclude the fact that there are questions that the Government needs to answer on why one particular private contractor was preferred over others. The Government’s defence of the deal has been haphazard and ill-tempered and the bickering between Government Ministers and Rahul Gandhi on the deal has been downright juvenile most of the time. Will the Supreme Court’s decision to take a look at Government papers change all that? One hopes so, but it will certainly have a dramatic political fallout one way or another, but as it stands right now, the Opposition’s single point agenda on Rafale is crippled and might not have a leg to stand on shortly. Maybe now the country can look at more important issues like the state of the economy.