The battle over Rafale, a key issue raised by Congress MP Rahul Gandhi before and during the Lok Sabha campaign, was a concerted effort by the main opposition to dent Modi’s sheen and allege favouritism to industrialist Anil Ambani, subversion of procedures and cost escalations.
The charges of wrongdoing gathered more momentum than anticipated and the government hit back, saying the claim that a UPA-era “deal” was cheaper was out of place as UPA failed to seal a contract despite years of negotiations while the IAF’s need for a new fighter grew more urgent.
The matter was heard threadbare by the SC, which, after initially saying that it will not look at the cost, did so with the government providing an itemised break-up in sealed cover. The court upheld the deal on procedures too with the government detailing negotiations and pointing out that UPA failed to resolve differences between Rafale maker Dassault and HAL over man hours and costs for production of the fighter in India.
The CAG too held that the Modi government’s claim to a superior deal with regard to costs was correct even though savings – as compared to terms under negotiation (which were not completed) during UPA – were a shade under 3% and not the 9% as claimed by the defence ministry.
Congress’ case was hurt by Rahul’s claim of a three-fold cost escalation as compared to UPA, a charge that would always be hard to sustain. Not all in Congress ranks were convinced of the utility of the claim and some leaders saw it as an “overpitch”, but the opposition leader insisted on making it his punchline, holding up aircraft models during roadshows to emphasise the point.
Modi attacked Congress and the Gandhis, saying “every middleman is linked to one family”. The PM’s poll rallies were generously peppered with references to UPA scams and often linked alleged corruption in defence to “politicisation” of action against terror. “Tensions were deliberately created in organisations such as IB and RAW,” he said, pointing to investigation of the Ishrat Jahan encounter case which almost led to a senior RAW officer’s arrest.
The case for a review of SC’s Rafale order was based on documents such as dissent notes by members of the negotiating team and concerns over parallel track followed by the PMO. The redaction of then defence minister Manohar Parrikar‘s comments hurt the arguments while the Centre pointed out that the same team members finally signed off on the price negotiations sent to the CCS.
The CAG in its report emphasised that the cost analysis was necessitated only because the negotiating team was given a political directive that the price needed to be improved. The SC on Thursday repeated its imprimatur, upholding that the reworked Rafale deal for purchase of 36 fighters was indeed a better buy.
In Video:Rafale verdict: SC dismisses petitions seeking review of order