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Rising above petty politics

Rising above petty politics

In an interview given to a leading business newspaper from India, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation Eric Trappier cleared the air on the controversies surrounding the Rafale deal between the governments of India and France. He said that Dassault was in talks with the Reliance Group led by Mukesh Ambani even before Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014 and signed the Rafale deal in 2016. Dassault had zeroed in on the Reliance Group in the wake of the then UPA government's keenness to purchase the Rafale fighter planes. In 2014, the Reliance Group exited the defence and aerospace business and when the Rafale deal was being signed in 2016, Dassault roped in Anil Ambani to carry out the India operations of the deal. Contrary to the accusations being made that Prime Minister Modi nudged the French government to take Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence as the offset partner, it was Dassault that suggested the name of the Indian company for the purpose, he said. Trappier also expressed surprise as to how the Indian opposition parties are pegging the contract with Reliance Defence in the range of Rs 30,000 crore. According to him, the full scale of investment in the Indian offset entity would be Rs 850 crore, in which Dassault's contribution would be 49 per cent while Reliance Defence would bring in 51 per cent of the investment. At present, the two companies have made a capital investment of Rs 70 crore and gradually the investments would touch the Rs 850 crore mark. And at no stage, the investments or the transactions would get anywhere near Rs 30,000 crore. Trappier also said that Dassault is ready for any investigation by Indian or French investigating agencies and that the company is bound by the laws of France, India and its own code of conduct. Refuting the allegations that India is overpaying for the fighter planes, the Dassault CEO said that as per the deal negotiated by the NDA government, India is, in fact, paying nine per cent less for the fighter planes than the price agreed by the UPA government.

Ever since the Rafale deal was signed in 2016 and Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence got the contract to execute the Indian part of the operations, the opposition parties launched a scathing attack on the government alleging that it favoured Anil Ambani and that the country is paying many times more for the fighter planes than the price agreed by the previous UPA government. In the ensuing cacophony, the opposition leaders came out with details that no one could verify. The impression that Prime Minister Modi is close to business tycoons like the Ambani and Adani families came in handy for the opposition leaders to cast aspersions on his integrity. The atmosphere became so vitiated that when a run-of-the-mill clash of ego between CBI chief and his deputy broke out in the open and the government sent both of them on leave in a damage control exercise, the opposition lost no time to link it with the Rafale deal, suggesting that the officials were shunted out as the CBI chief was intending to collect information and evidence related to the Rafale deal. They alleged that the Prime Minister was scared of the officer who might have begun an investigation into the controversial deal on his own -- just because he alone has this power in CBI. A mundane affair involving CBI snowballed into a major controversy with the opposition parties seeking reinstatement of the top CBI official who has a reputation of being strict and upright while his deputy is considered to be just the opposite. Putting the Prime Minister in the dock, the opposition parties staged demonstrations at CBI offices across the country in support of the CBI chief. It would have been much better, had the sidelined CBI chief explained his stand on this new controversy that he was intending to launch a probe into the Rafale deal.

Nevertheless, the ongoing agitation over Rafale deal, the stripping of the power of the CBI chief and the link that is being drawn between the two expose a serious lacuna in our system that we don't have enough institutional safeguards for important government functionaries such as the Prime Minister and the CBI chief. To be fair, who has read the full details of the Rafale deal to point an accusing finger at the Prime Minister or Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence? Now that Dassault CEO has come out with relevant details about the deal, what is the response fo the opposition leaders who have been accusing of a foul play? Should the opposition parties make the Rafale deal an issue even when they know it well that these fighter planes are urgently needed to bolster India's security arrangements against an ever assertive China and Pakistan? The previous government was already in talks to procure these planes? Haven't they jeopardised India's security considerations? Similarly, who told the opposition leaders that the CBI was intending to probe the Rafale deal? More importantly, do these leaders have the right to know what is going on inside the CBI headquarters or in the CBI chief's mind?

This is sad that the opposition, whether it is BJP or Congress, does not care about the national interest or reputation of an institution or a top constitutional functionary and go about spreading disinformation and unverifiable details as facts. BJP has done this in the past and Congress is doing it now. Congress President Rahul Gandhi who single-handedly made the Rafale deal a national issue by accusing the Prime Minister of corruption and favouritism has more reasons to do so than meets the eyes. His father Rajiv Gandhi who was the youngest Prime Minister of India at 40 had come to power with an even bigger majority than the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Because of his clean image, he was called Mr Clean but when his government entered into a deal to procure the much needed Bofors guns, he was accused of all sorts of wrong-doing from favouring his family friends from Italy to kickbacks. The opposition launched a vitriolic attack against him with the likes of Ram Jethmalani and Arun Shourie leading the charge. The most trusted of his cabinet colleagues, V P Singh smelled an opportunity for himself and went all guns blazing against his boss. The actual amount that was alleged to have been paid as a kickback to the middlemen was Rs 64 crore, a small sum of money considering the high-value deal. Rajiv Gandhi lost office in the next election in 1989 and subsequently died in a terror attack by LTTE during an election campaign. A major reason for his death in the attack was that the security cover around him was downgraded by the government and India woke up to the loss of this great leader and his contributions only after his death. It is another matter that his foreign-origin wife Sonia Gandhi not only raised her children well and ran the party with exemplary leadership but also showed unexpected grit and determination and presided over the government in India till every single LTTE cadre including its chief Prabhakaran and entire of his family was wiped out, irrespective of the political consequences either in Sri Lanka or in India. The Bofors guns procured by him turned out to be a game-changer against Pakistan in the 1999 Kargil war and the Swedish manufacturer of the gun which was blacklisted by the Indian government was once again asked to supply the ammunition. During the Kargil war, India procured the mortar shells for the Bofors guns for $ 1000 apiece from South Africa.

By raising the Rafale deal, it is Rahul Gandhi's turn to pay tribute to his father for the ill-treatment that he received from the immature and opportunistic political culture that we as a nation have evolved into. But he should understand that we need to show more maturity, understanding, and discretion in our public life.

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