Three years and six months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would buy Rafale fight jets from France, Congress president Rahul Gandhi today demanded his resignation from the post accusing him of corruption. On April 10, 2015, PM Modi had announced Rafale deal in Paris. The deal was officially signed on September 26, 2017.
The Rafale deal is an agreement between the governments of India and France for procurement of 36 fighter jets in flyaway condition. The decision was taken at the summit level talks between PM Modi and the then President of France Francois Hollande.
That Indian Air Force needs upgrade was flagged in post-1999 Kargil War period. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government initiated the process but technical specifications could not be finalised before it was voted out of power in 2004.
Final proposal for the purchase of 126 fighter jets came from the Indian Air Force in 2007. The new government under Manmohan Singh approved it and a tender was floated.
Following a modified bidding process, Dassault Aviation was finalised as the supplier and the fighter jet that was zeroed in on was Rafale fighter. By the time, Rafale was chosen by the Indian Air Force, the second Manmohan Singh government had completed half its term. The Rafale deal could not be signed during the UPA rule.
Before the Narendra Modi government could be sworn in, a work-share agreement was signed between Dassault Aviation and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in March, 2014.
However, the deal hit rough weather after the Modi government came to power in May, 2014. A few months later, Dassault Aviation cited higher manpower cost at HAL and expressed inability to continue with the signing of deal.
Rafale fighter is a twin-engine combat jet in Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). It is manufactured by French aerospace company, Dassault Aviation. Indian Air Force has said that the induction of Rafale fighter jets would help replace aging MiG series fighters of Soviet era.
The Rafale deal was signed in January 2016 during President Hollande’s visit to India. Some 20 months later, in November 2017, the Congress smelt a rat in the Rafale deal saying a “huge scam is brewing”. The Congress has upped its ante against the government every time its leaders led by Rahul Gandhi picked up this issue.
The Rafale debate saw frequent disruptions during the Budget Session and Monsoon Session of Parliament this year. Rahul Gandhi alleged that the BJP was not allowing Parliament to run in order to prevent him from speaking on the Rafale deal.
Rahul Gandhi said that if he was allowed to speak on Rafale deal in Parliament, there would be an “earthquake”. Finally, Rahul Gandhi spoke during the Monsoon Session and alleged that PM Modi was directly involved in Rafale scam.
In between came out reports saying that the government ensured that industrialist Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence was made an off-set partner of Dassault Aviation as mandated by the India-France government-to-government agreement.
The BJP and the Modi government denied the charge. The Reliance Defence also refuted the allegation saying the arrangement with Dassault predates signing of India-France agreement. Dassault Aviation said that it chose Reliance as partner on its own.
The Congress alleged that the Modi government signed the contract with France at a much higher price than negotiated during the UPA rule. Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition leaders demanded that the government must reveal the price of Rafale. The government rejected the demand saying that the price disclosure is covered under the secrecy clause of the deal.
Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, has claimed to have been told “personally” by former French President Francois Hollande that the Modi government could reveal the price of Rafale without jeopardising the defence deal.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman responded by reading out the secrecy of the agreement signed during UPA rule. She said that the government was bound not to disclose the Rafale price under the agreement.
With fresh reports appearing in French media claiming that bringing Anil Ambani’s defence firm was mandatory for Dassault Aviation for entering the defence market of India and securing Rafale deal, Rahul Gandhi today sought resignation of Narendra Modi saying, “Prime Minister of India is corrupt.”