Antony Must Cancel Rafale Deal!
Mr Antony as yet has a reputation for personal probity despite the scandals surrounding his ministry. People believe he is personally clean. But his reputation will be in tatters if he goes through with the Rafale deal
Fresh developments have made it imperative that the government cancel the Rs. 62000 crore Rafale fighter jet deal. The defence ministry is staggering from one corruption scandal to another. What is surprising is that even though warning signals are given in time the government refuses to heed them. Even while the government is mired in the Augusta Westland Helicopter scam the threat of the Rafale fighter jet scam is looming over its head. Readers might recall that one year ago in March 2012 it was pointed out in these columns that there was a cloud over the Rafale deal. Broadly three reasons were cited why the deal was questionable.
First, the opposition shadow defence minister of Britain Ms. Seabeck criticized Prime Minister David Cameron for allowing Rafale to get the Indian contract over Britain’s Typhoon fighter jet also in the race. By implication Ms. Seabeck was alleging that the French got the contract because of superior public relations. Reading between the lines it meant that Britain did not attempt to counter kickbacks paid by the French. Thereby Britain lost many jobs while its employment situation was critical.
Secondly, to reinforce this innuendo London’s prestigious newspaper The Guardian went a step further. It wrote: “He (Cameron) appears to have no links with India’s real decision makers, the Gandhi family… Power within India’s ruling Congress Party rests with the Gandhis.” The obvious question arose why the Gandhis were relevant when no member of the family had direct responsibility in the Defence Ministry. It might be noted that this Guardian report came much before Italian authorities had disclosed in their charge sheet on the Augusta Westland Helicopter scam that 28000 Euros bribe had been paid to “the family” in India. Nor is it without significance that one of the two key middlemen who allegedly paid bribes in the Augusta Westland deal was also a middleman acting for the Dassault Company that manufactures the Rafale fighter jet. He is Mr Christian Michel based in London.
Thirdly it was reported that two senior officials of the defence ministry who were members of the contract negotiation committee questioned the methods adopted by it to conclude that the Rafale fighter jet had the lowest bid for the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal. At the final stages Rafale had edged out the British fighter jet Typhoon while the other competitors from the US , Russia and Sweden had been eliminated earlier. Rafale knocked out the American F-16 and F-18, Russian MiG 35 and Sweden’s Gripen on the basis of technical performance. It defeated Britain’s Typhoon on life-cycle costs.
It might be recalled that in April 2009 Rafale was officially debarred during the technical evaluation stage for non-compliance. The aircraft was disallowed participation in the next stage of field trials. There were gaps in the technical bid submitted by Rafale team. The defence ministry sought clarifications from the French company but received unsatisfactory answers. Thereafter the ministry excluded Rafale from further participation in the tender. But mysteriously a month later Rafale was back in the race! A defence ministry official said: “Since it was only paper evaluation and the French company Dassault Aviation has now supplied the missing answers, the Defense Procurement Board has decided to allow Rafale to take part in the actual field trials.”
It is in this background that the latest omission by the Dassault Company which owns Rafale needs to be considered. From the details provided by the company it is not clearly specified that the costs quoted by it include the provision of technical services for the Rafale fighter jet. The defence ministry has sought a written commitment from the company that technical services are included in the cost. The Dassault Company is not providing the written commitment. The earlier act of non-compliance by the company was subsequently papered over by the defence ministry through an unconvincing explanation. Surely the defence ministry should not accept this latest act of non-compliance. If the company does not promptly do the needful Mr Antony should cancel the deal. Enough is enough.
Mr Antony as yet has a reputation for personal probity despite the scandals surrounding his ministry. People believe he is personally clean. But his reputation will be in tatters if he goes through with the Rafale deal. It is small comfort for the public if a minister does not personally accept bribes but allows those he cannot afford to displease to do so in order to safeguard his position. Mr Antony cannot any longer afford to look the other way. He has to stop the rot. The ultimate tragedy is of course that even quality equipment sorely required by our armed forces is being denied to them because greedy politicians are not being prevented from putting their hands in the till. Because of corruption the nation is losing money. Because of corruption our armed forces are losing capability.
By Rajinder Puri