New Delhi: The Congress on Friday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of compromising national security in the Rafale deal by “denying” to the IAF 90 aircraft it desperately needed and “gifted” Dassault Rs 186 crore more per aircraft at the cost of the public exchequer in the deal it signed with France.
Citing a media report that India ended up paying 41 per cent more per aircraft for the 36 fighter jets ordered in 2015, Congress leader P. Chidambaram also expressed alarm over how objections by three senior Defence Ministry officials “to all aspects of the deal announced by Modi” were overruled by the other members in the negotiating team.
“Since Modi announced the new deal in April, 2015 and scrapped the UPA era deal, one question that has loomed large is why the Modi government rejected the need and demand of 126 aircraft made by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and decided to buy only 36 Rafale fighters.
“This question has never been answered either by the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister, the Finance Minister or the Law Minister, who all at one point or the other have come out in defence of the deal,” Chidambaram told the media at the AICC.
Citing the 13 India-specific enhancements (ISEs) asked by the IAF, Chidambaram said the negotiated price was euro 1.3 billion which was to be paid under both the UPA and the Modi deal.
“If 126 aircraft had been purchased, Dassault would have recovered the Euro 1.4 billion in over 10 years and 6 months. But with only 36 aircraft being purchased under the new deal, this will be recovered in just 36 months.
“Dassault gains in two ways. Firstly the increase of price per aircraft, secondly if the government orders for another 90 aircraft, Dassault will again charge for India-specific enhancements,” he said.
“Dassault is laughing all the way to the bank. The government has wronged the country in two ways – compromised national security by denying to the IAF 90 aircraft they desperately need and cost the public money 25 million euro more per aircraft that is equal to 186 crore more per aircraft,” he said.
While the Modi government and the BJP have been citing the Supreme Court verdict to have established the deal to be clean and defeated the Congress’ attempts to malign the Modi government, Chidambaram said the issue was a matter not to be judicially scrutinised as the court does not have the jurisdiction and reiterated the demand for a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).
“Besides the price factor, the media report revealed how every aspect of the deal has been objected by three members of the negotiating team and how their objections were overruled by 4:3 by the team. We have heard this happening only in judiciary not in the government decision-making process. We reiterate the demand for a JPC.”
“Only a parliamentary panel has the right to call people, examine documents and ask questions. That is why we are pressing for a JPC. But we know this government will never agree for that,” added Chidambaram.
To a suggestion that the coming session will be a “lame duck” sitting and a JPC cannot be formed, he said “if in the first week of January the Parliament is not a lame duck, why should it be so from the First of February.”
The former finance minister said if the government thought that it had succeeded in giving a “quiet burial” to the Rafale controversy it was wrong. “The controversy is very much alive and this morning it acquired a new dimension,” he said.
He said this also raised serious questions about the process of decision making in the NDA government. “The man who got away was Manohar Parrikar (the then Defence Minister) who passed the buck to the Cabinet Committee on Security! Clever man!.”
Should the government place an order for another 90 aircraft on Dassault it will certainly charge ISE-loaded price at which it sold 36 aircraft although the ISI cost would have been recovered on the sale of 36 aircraft. “Perhaps for this reason the government deleted ‘follow on’ clause to buy more aircraft,” he said.
The UPA government had negotiated a deal to purchase 126 Rafale fighter jets of which 18 were to be bought in fly-away condition and the remaining 108 to be manufactured in India under licence. However, the NDA government entered into an inter-government agreement with France to buy 36 jets in fly-away condition.