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Dubious waiver

Dubious waiver

It was four years ago that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the government-to-government deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets in Paris. Four years have reaped India an addition of 36 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft – yet to be inducted – and hefty criticism directed towards the government over the same in occasional waves. While the opposition parties ranted over the current dispensation's alleged corruption in the Rafale deal with France, the incumbent had come clear in the eye of nation's top court. Given a clean chit by the Supreme Court, there has not been any proven corruption case for the Modi government and that is very much appreciated, considering what the country was treated to during UPA-II. Coming clean in the Rafale controversy augurs well for NDA. It bolsters their chances for a second term. But it could mar it as well should there be any substantial developments proving corruption in the matter. With the apex court announcing the "leaked" documents admissible in the review petition hearing, the court will now proceed to examine what exactly do the papers point out and whether it, in any way, cites the extra detail that was not presented earlier to it. Another wave of criticism hit the government, and this time despite the efforts of the government counsel to establish a case of privilege over the issue, the scrutiny will continue. What is absolutely crucial to the controversy now in all the four years since Modi's announcement back in 2015 is the period of elections. Lok Sabha elections are ongoing, and Rafale is a potential game-changer. Even a comment in the newspapers regarding Rafale catches the eye instantly since there is an indefinite curiosity surrounding the whole issue. Anything related to Rafale is worth noting, and especially right now when the time to reconsider Modi for a second term is on the cards. Recent disclosure regarding Anil Ambani's France-based company, Reliance Atlantic Flag France, has raised eyebrows but also turn out to be a mere fallacy. French daily, Le Monde, on Saturday reported that the French government waived a €143.7 million tax liability for Anil Ambani's Reliance Atlantic Flag France barely six months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the government-to-government deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets in Paris in 2015. Anil Ambani's involvement in the Rafale deal has been a dubious feature in the matter anyway with his company chosen as the offset partner instead of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). But what the French outlet has reported makes the matter all the more unsettled. There has to be some sort of explanation for why the French government waived €143.7 million tax liability and accepted just €7.3 million as settlement in 2015 from Ambani's company for the period 2008-14, especially after rescinding Ambani's €7.6 million offer in 2013. It does not add up. Though all the parties concerned – Defence Ministry, Ambani's Reliance group, and the French Embassy in New Delhi – issued statements on Saturday itself denying links between the tax waiver and the Rafale deal. Then President Francis Hollande's revelations had stirred the Rafale discussions when he asserted how giving offset contracts to Ambani was part of a "new formula" for buying 36 Rafale aircraft which was put forth after the government under PM Modi assumed office in May 2014. Even if we keep aside what the opposition parties say because those can be to capitalise on the criticism directed towards NDA, additional information from sources that do not yield anything from the issue is a prevalent matter of concern. Le Monde's report, ex-president Hollande's remarks, and leaked defence ministry papers published by The Hindu make a dodgy picture which, if true, is a devastating incidence of corruption per se. It is the defence sector that is allegedly exploited and, with the narrative built by the Modi government over national security, it may bring down the entire ship which has set sail to another term.

On the flip side of the coin, as mentioned before, Rafale is a sensitive topic which has the potential to raise eyebrows in discussions where it features and hence, it may also be true that other entities are merely trying to stir up debates in the country during a precarious time – national elections. But that would hold importance if only one source is unveiling vivid details that the public is unaware of. With different sources providing inputs that raise questions, a third-party interest into a government-to-government deal with the objective to create havoc and cause a ruckus is unlikely. As much as media and press might cherish pursuing a substantial matter that makes them sell news or raise TRPs, Rafale is not the ideal bait. And, above all this stands the veracity of this information which the concerned parties blatantly deny. Le Monde's report definitely surged discourses amongst political parties and voters but it is the latter's opinion which matters the most as of now.

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