Rafale deal explodes on ‘one person’
New Delhi: Arun Shourie, one of the editors who relentlessly pursued the Bofors controversy in the 1980s, has dealt a devastating blow to the Narendra Modi government on the Rafale combat jet deal.
"I have dealt with the Bofors case. Bofors was absolutely nothing compared to this," Shourie, a minister in the erstwhile Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and a trenchant critic of the policies of Modi, said on Wednesday.
Shourie, former BJP leader and minister Yashwant Sinha and activist Prashant Bhushan levelled a series of grave charges and issued a detailed document raising several questions the government has not answered yet.
Changing the complexion of the scandal that has so far been flagged repeatedly by Rahul Gandhi, the three outspoken public figures bluntly said the Modi government was hiding behind a non-existent confidentiality clause to conceal "a textbook case of criminal misconduct".
They said they were convinced that "there is a major scandal here, gross misuse of office and monumental criminal misconduct".
Leaving little to the imagination, Sinha declared: "This decision was taken by one person, there was no collaborator."
The Congress will demand a thorough debate on the Rafale deal in both the Houses of Parliament on Thursday.
The Congress, along with other Opposition parties, has decided to ask for suspension of normal business to discuss Rafale. The likely rejection of the adjournment motion is expected to ensured that the monsoon session will end in Rafale-induced turmoil, setting the tone for the campaign in the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Exhorting the opposition to mount pressure on the government, Sinha, who held key portfolios such as finance and external affairs and was a part of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), said: "We don't expect any action in this case because of the person who is involved. If the Opposition demands a probe by the JPC (joint parliamentary committee), it can't work as the election is very near. There should be a forensic audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) of this deal and the facts be placed before the country within three months."
Sinha said: "Having been in government, I know joint statements on these high-level foreign visits are worked out in advance. Foreign secretary S. Jaishankar suggested on April 8, 2015, two days before the deal was signed in France, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit was about the big picture and ongoing negotiations on Rafale would continue. He obviously was not in the know of the Prime Minister's desire to purchase 36 aircraft, as was the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar. This decision was taken by one person; there was no collaborator."
Sinha claimed that the CCS was required to scrap the old deal and make authorisation for the new deal which was not done.
Shourie added: "They are hiding behind the secrecy clause as the game will be up the moment the price is revealed. They have given at least Rs 1,000 crore more for each aircraft and the claim that the price went up because of add-ons is bogus."
Shourie said: "The joint statement by Modi and French President Macron said - 'the aircraft and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configurations as had tested and approved by the Indian Air Force. The old deal had everything. In fact, buying aircraft in flyaway condition should be cheaper as setting up infrastructure to build them in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd would have pushed up the cost. Also, they said the first batch of fighter jets would arrive in two years but nothing has come so far."
The new deal had been signed in 2015. The government has now conceded that the first batch of fighter jets will come by September 2019 and the full quota by 2022. Under the old deal, 18 would have come by now, Shourie said.
He also pointed out that HAL would have acquired advanced manufacturing capabilities to become self-reliant in producing modern fighter jets with the transfer of technology clause in the old deal, had this government not replaced it with Anil Ambani's firm.
Bhushan said: "I too have been closely monitoring defence contracts. This scam is larger than anything thus far. This has caused a loss of at least Rs 35,000 crore to the state exchequer."