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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Why is the Congress Ecosystem so desperate to scuttle the Rafale Deal?

There are several groups in the country who are desperate to turn the Rafale deal into BJP’s achilles heel like Bofors continues to be for Congress. A wave of attacks on this fighter aircraft deal have been launched by different players and using different arguments, the key ones being  –

1.) Why was the original deal for 126 Rafale planes – 18 jets in fly-away condition & 108 to be manufactured in India by Dassault in collaboration with HAL – cancelled? Were there process violations in how the new deal was negotiated by the Modi Government?

2.) Why is the per unit price for the 36 jets being purchased in Government-to-Government deal now, costing much more than the original?

3.) Why was Reliance given an offset contract by Dassault?

The above 3 questions have been comprehensively answered here and here.

Now, fresh attacks have come via revelations made by a French investigative news website Mediapart (a sort of Tehelka + Wikileaks clone)

  • Mediapart, while grilling the ex-French President Francois Hollande on charges of crony capitalism (their theory being that French Government made Dassault give offset contract to Reliance as Reliance had produced a film for Hollande’s girlfriend), quoted Hollande as replying, ““We didn’t have a word to say about that subject. The Indian government suggested this service provider, and Dassault negotiated with (Anil) Ambani. We didn’t have a choice, we took the interlocutor (or partner) which was selected for us [translated from French].” Rahul Gandhi went to town with this to claim that Modi had forced the French to give a contract to Reliance. But this angle was quickly shot down, with the French Government & Dassault rubbishing the claims, and even Hollande clarifying that ‘he is unaware of any pressure to partner with Reliance and this question can only be answered by Dassault’.
  • The latest attack was another ‘revelation’ by Mediapart where an internal Dassault communication to  workers’ union representatives explaining why they had to build a plant in Bharat to fulfil their offset obligations was portrayed as Dassault admitting they were ‘forced to partner with Reliance’. But even that desperate attempt to prove cronyism in the Rafale deal was promptly shot down.

The fact of the matter is that as part of the new deal worked out by the NDA government, Dassault has to fulfil offset obligations of 50% of total deal value in the forms of investment in Bharat, purchase from Bharat, or transfer of technology to Bharatiya companies. To fulfil this offset obligation, Dassault has got into contracts with hundreds of companies including Anil Ambani led Reliance as well as state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

Moreover, what really takes the wind out of the sails of this line of attack by the Congress ecosystem is the fact that in 2012 under the Congress-led UPA government, Reliance Industries and France’s Dassault Aviation had signed a pact for partnering in the defence and homeland security sector – as part of the mandatory offset clause of the earlier deal for 126 jets that later fell through. So, any contract for Ambanis during NDA rule becomes cronyism, while similar deals during UPA era are halal!

Now, more information has surfaced which hints at back-channel collaboration between Mediapart and core Congress ecosystem players like NDTV, The Wire etc.

What explains this desperation to scuttle the Rafale deal?

It is clear that Congress desperately wants to make Rafale into the big-ticket corruption issue it badly needs to tell the voters, “See, Modi and BJP are no better than the rest of us when it comes to corruption”.

With the Supreme Court too getting involved and asking the Government to sumbit their decision-making process in a sealed envelope, the noise around Rafale is not going to die out anytime soon.

But is there something more to it all? Twitter user @RishiUvaach presented an extremely plausible theory in a tweet thread, that we are reproducing below in an edited form –

“Recent lie of congress based on some “leaked paper” got punctured (referring to the Mediapart leaks). It was Dassault’s clarification to Unions back in France on why Nagpur facility can’t be built in France. This is 8th attempt by congress to discredit Rafale deal. You must be thinking why? Read next tweets.

What will you call a person who promises something to someone & doesn’t fullfil the promose? Dishonest & Cheat. No, I am not going to call Congress dishonest & cheat. But Congress has lived up to its reputation of being the ‘most honest corrupt party’.

IAF put the critical gap requirement at the time of ABV Govt. Govt quickly got it into action & started the procurement process, which was taken over by Congress after the 2004 elections. RFP (Request for Proposal) was out in 2007, but bids were opened only in 2011. Even after 4 years of delay, the deal was never finalized by Congress.

The reason for this delay during UPA era? IAF was not in favour of Lockheed Martin’s F-16s because of valid reasons. But Congress was adamant for it, no prizes for guessing, why? Bids were opened in 2011, Dassault came out to be the lowest bidder on paper. Now, Congress was left with no alternative route to push for Lockheed Martin (LM).

To pacify LM, they adopted the strategy to ignore the deal and let the new Govt start the procurement process again. Which would have given LM one more chance to compete, and this time with better information. But Modi washed off the plan with his decision to strike a Government-to-Government deal directly with the French Government, and avoid further delay. Now, how was Congress supposed to repay the favour it took from the Americans years ago?

If you remember, last year in Sept’17 Rahul Gandhi along with Sam Pitroda visited US. All the attacks on Rafale deal started just after that visit. Was it really a coincidence, were they sleeping for the previous 1.5 yrs since the NDA government finalized the new Government-to-Government deal with France? For the world, it was a normal visit, but in reality it had a clandestine motive.

Last year in Nov’17, one of my friend who works with Reliance told me something shocking, “now that rahul and Pitroda have been to US and have met up with LM to discuss Rafale, they will start speaking on Rafale as per information fed by LM”

Then last month, a news report confirmed the secret meeting in Sept 2017 between ‘a top opposition leader and a US Arms manufacturers which is Rafale’s US competitor, after which the Rafale issue was picked up.

So, this is the way how Congress is paying back a favour. With attacks on the credibility of this deal, planting fake stories, shouting a lie again and again.

Even IAF Chief has to come out to clarify that IAF or Government had no role in Dassault choosing any of its offset partners and that the Rafale is the right choice for the airforce; Defence Minister has addressed press conferences on the subject; French Govt and Dassault exposed the various claims made by Rahul Gandhi; Supreme Court has refused to get into pricing and technical details of the deal.

Still, Congress is hell bent on showing its honesty towards LM and doing anything possible to get this deal scrapped. Just for their ‘dalaali’ (broker commission) they are even putting nation’s security at risk.”

Reactions from 2011

Now, take a look at some MSM articles from the past which make the above scenario even more plausible –

1.)  “US enraged over India shooting down F-16, F-18″ – Aug 29, 2011 on rediff.com

This article shows much the Obama administration had invested in the MMRCA deal – including a direct pitch from Obama to MMS via a secret letter – and how angry they were that both American contenders (Lockheed Martin & Boeing) for the multi-billion 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft deal had lost out. Then US Ambassador to Bharat, Timothy Roemer said he was “deeply disappointed as he had been assured at the highest levels of the Indian government that the procurement process for the fighter aircraft ‘has been and will be transparent and fair’.” 

So it would appear that Indian Air Force(IAF) short-listing the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon after testing the six defence majors in the fray on 643 parameters and marking them on the basis of their performance in the Field Evaluation Trials (FET), really did throw a spanner in the works for Congress.

2.) Lets look back at the recommendations for MMRCA deal by controversial defence analyst Col. (retd) Ajai Shukla, a known Congress ecosystem loyalist and passionate BJP-basher –

“Ajai Shukla: Scrap the MMRCA, buy US F-35s” – Oct 19, 2010, business-standard.com

“Ajai Shukla: Antony,pull the plug on the MMRCA” –  March 22 2011, business-standard.com

(Here he first makes a rational-sounding pitch about using the MMRCA funds for building up an indigenous aeronautical industrial base, before slipping in a pitch for the “5th-generation” US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.)

Was Rafale a must for the IAF?” – Dec 4, 2017, rediff.com

(Here, Shukla again targets the Rafale deal and says “buzz within the defence aerospace community was that the contest structure favoured Dassault…..Among the fighters the IAF eliminated were the F-16 Super Viper and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the world’s most combat tested and proven fighters that form the backbone of the world’s most formidable air force.”)

Even other supposedly neutral commentators on geopolitical affairs made their disappointment plain after the IAF decided to not choose the American planes for the MMRCA deal, as this May 2011 article in The Hindu states

“Sadanand Dhume, writing in the journal of the American Enterprise Institute, has argued India has “rebuffed the US offer of a closer strategic partnership”; and Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has argued that New Delhi “settled for a plane, not a relationship.” Indian commentators seem to agree: Nitin Pai, the editor of the strategic journal Pragati, charged India with being “gratuitously generous” to Europe; and The Times of India’s Chidanand Rajghatta said the decision had dealt the India-U.S. alliance “a significant blow.”

So there was a definite lobby in Lutyens’ Delhi which was desperately pitching for the American planes all along, and which wanted the MMRCA to be scrapped if the deal did not go to the Americans.

Twitter user @barbarindian adds some more perspective on the issue by wondering if US, after signing the nuclear 123 deal with UPA-1 in Oct 2008 (following a controversial confidence vote in Parliament where a cash-for-votes sting op was bizarrely not aired by the editor of the channel who commissioned the sting), expected the MMRCA order to comes its way to further ‘cement’ the strategic US-India partnership?

“Wonder if the Nuclear 123 deal was bundled with understanding that LM places will be purchased. There is definitely something odd in the whole thing.

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