Eric Trappier, the CEO of Dassault aviation has finally spoken out about the Rafale deal in an interview with ANI and there seem to be gaping holes in his narration of the deal. There are more questions to be answered now, and the scale of the murkiness of the deal just got bigger.
First of all, ANI has been pulled up for being a pro-government media house. Why has Trappier not responded to queries from other Indian media houses for interviews is the burning question doing the rounds on social media. Why such a biased interview where the interviewer was mostly confined to taking down notes from the interviewee like she was his personal assistant? Why was he not asked in detail about the deal including about the allegations of a brazen scam clouding the deal?
Even more damaging seems to be the analysis by Julien Bouissou, the South Asia correspondent of Le Monde about the interview. In a series of tweets on Twitter, he has clearly explained what was wrong with the interview thereby throwing more light on the deal.
The questions do not end there though. Why is the CEO of the manufacturing company trying to explain the transparency of the deal when the governments of the two countries are tight-lipped about it? Trappier further goes on to claim that since he is the CEO of the company, he cannot lie and is basically demanding that people accept his word. CEOs are corporate executives with supposedly excellent business acumen who are recruited from other companies with the sole objective of driving the profitability of the company’s business. The CEOs become the face of the respective companies and representatives of the company’s stakeholders.
Through the years, there have been numerous instances of companies fudging numbers to show high profitability and later filing for bankruptcy. This was one reason for the beginning of the financial meltdown in 2008. All of these companies had their CEOs talking big and loud in the times of the companies’ heydays. In our own backyard, we had Vishal Sikka who was forced to quit Infosys for similar reasons. So Trappier cannot use the non-existent credibility of CEOs to make people accept his words. If there is someone at the top management who can lie, it is the CEO.
The troubles are only mounting for the government of India. The PM, during the meeting of the heads of governments abruptly decided to cancel the deal for 126 aircrafts and create a new deal for just 36 aircrafts at a much higher price. Business decisions are never made during such high-level government meetings. When he took the decision, neither the finance minister and/or the defence minister were with him nor did he have approvals from relevant authorities in India. It was just a bizarre unilateral decision he took by flouting all the norms he should have followed. The IAF’s requirement was for 126 aircrafts, but they are getting only 36 now that too at 40% higher cost than the quote for the 126 aircrafts.
The government has tried to play down the charges of overpayment with the claim of adding India specific enhancements to the aircrafts, but those specifications were already part of the RFP that was floated way back in 2007. More dirt from the deal is tumbling out. France had refused to give India a sovereign guarantee as the earlier deal was diluted and a new deal for 36 aircrafts was hurriedly undertaken. This essentially means the French government will not take ownership or become part of any conflicts between the Government of India and Dassault aviation in the future.
Anil Ambani’s companies have no prior experience in defence manufacturing. He does not even have any defence manufacturing facilities. When asked about it, there was only a barren piece of land they could show. Trappier says Dassault wanted to do business and manufacturing with a new company. Is he serious? This is not a toothpaste manufacturing company he is talking about. This is the execution of a government tender for meeting the requirements of the armed forces of a country. It cannot get more sensitive and important than this. This ridiculous statement is a direct question on his credibility to continue to be a CEO. What has essentially happened is, everyone who could have dug into the deal have dug so deep that most of the sensitive information about the deal including the specifications of the aircrafts are out in the open now.
What is even more bizarre is, out of nowhere, Dassault aviation has picked up 34.7% stake by paying ₹284 crores in Reliance Airport Development Ltd. which has almost zero business operations and income. Why would Dassault do such a random business investment? Could they not have put that money in a profit making company or even funded a technology startup more closely related to their line of business? Why specifically in a company owned by Anil Ambani which is completely unrelated to their business? Is this money the kickback Dassault gave for obtaining the contract and the money was redirected to this company?
To add to all the woes, 60 formal civil servants have slammed the CAG in a written letter for delaying audit reports on demonetisation and Rafale deal without any apparent reasons. The government has been trying to use the CVC to scuttle an investigation into the Rafale deal initiated by Alok Verma, the CBI director by levelling corruption charges against him and trying to keep him away from CBI’s office till his tenure ends in Jan 2019. That does seem to fall flat after the Supreme Court ordered the CVC to conduct the investigation under the watch of a retired SC judge.
The government has been clearly cornered with the damages they have caused to the country’s economy with unrealistic implementations of demonetisation and GST, and now the Rafale deal looks more like a scam that could become their ‘Napoleon’s Waterloo’ moment. BJP is desperate enough to win the 2019 elections by any means which is why they are diverting the country’s attention from their humongous mistakes towards building statues and by fomenting trouble in the name of religion with Ram temple at Ayodhya and unnecessary protests at Sabarimala. The attack on the Rafale deal has been relentless, and it is only going to intensify if the SC exonerates Alok Verma. The government should have learned its lesson from the demon it created with demonetisation, but Rafale deal could become the monster that devoured its own creator.