The verdict of honorable Supreme Court on the Rafale deal has become a matter of contention between the BJP and the Congress party in the expedition to 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Rafale seems to be a thorn in the throat of present BJP government and the Congress on the other side is using every bit of it to attack the Modi government at the centre. Congress was constantly placing allegations of corruption and crony capitalism on government but after the judgment of the Supreme Court dismissing the petitions demanding a court monitored probe into the deal, it gave a sense of relief to the government. The three-judge bench headed by chief justice Ranjan Gogoi ruled that “perception by individual cannot be the subject of roving inquiry” by the court.
Looking into the history of Rafale deal, which was started way back in 2007 when Indian Air Force (IAF) raised the requirements for Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) to replace the aging and retiring fleet of MIG aircrafts: the deal has evolved as a controversy in recent years and the matter of claims and counterclaims between two giant political parties. Digging deeper into the matter, it’s important to light up certain issues related to the controversy.
Rafale is a twin-engine medium multi–role combat aircraft (MMRCA) manufactured by the French Company Dassault Aviation. It is a 4th generation aircraft. The aircraft is capable of performing a wide range of functions:
• Rafale can carry out both air-to -ground as well as air-to-air attacks.
• The aircraft is fitted with an on-board oxygen generation system.
• It can carry out interception during the same flight.
• It suppress the need for liquid oxygen re-filling or ground support for oxygen production.
• Aircraft has the air refueling pipe and also loaded with spectra system.
India has many aircraft retiring somewhere around 2024 and needs to import aircraft laced with latest technology. IAF wants 45 fighter squadrons (18 in each squadron) for a two-front collusive threat. Therefore, the government’s plan to revamp its IAF fleet by introducing multi-role combat aircraft.
Rafale jets are currently being used by France and also by Egypt and Qatar. The export of Rafale to India will help the Dassault Aviation manufacturing company to meet its revenue targets. India was the first country that agreed to buy Rafale jets after it was used in Libyan airstrikes. If India successfully imports these jets and inducts them into its military fold, it will spur other nations too to buy rafales.
In 2007, international aviation manufacturers from all over the world showed interest in the tender for 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft issued by the UPA government. The competition sustained among the companies including French Rafale, Russia MIG-35, and the Swedish Saab JAS-39 Gripen, American Lockhead Martin F-16, the Boeing F/A-18 super Hornet and Euro Fighter Typhoon.
In 2012, five years after the tender was issued the Dassault Aviation of France was announced as the lowest bidder. The delay in the deal occurred due the national election and change of government witnessed by both the countries while negotiations were under way. Pricing was the other factor of the delay in the deal.
Earlier Deal of UPA government: the plan was to import 126 jets, out of which 18 fighters were to be imported in a ‘fly away condition’ inclusive of Transfer of Technology for 108 jets that were to be manufactured in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
India and France were unable to decide on a price for the jets. According to the sources, the price of an aircraft is about 740 crores and India wanted them for at least 20% lesser cost. However, the UPA government negotiated the price of Rs. 54,000 crores for 126 Rafale jets. The work share agreement between HAL And Dassault Aviation was signed in 2014.
In 2014, with the new NDA government in power, the clarity on the progress of the deal remained unclear.
New deal of NDA government: In 2015, when Prime Minister Modi visited France, India’s intention to buy 36 Rafale Aircraft in fly away condition was announced. The price negotiated by the new government for 36 fighter jets were estimated as 58000 crore. The Reliance Defence Ltd emerged as a key alliance player in place of HAL. The agreement was signed through government-to-government deal.
• The present concern in the matter is the price negotiations. According to the UPA government, the price maintained for 126 Rafale Aircraft including transfer of technology was 54,000 crore, whereas the current government agreed to pay 58,000 crore for 36 Rafale jets in a fly away condition but without transfer of technology.
Price comparison as provided by Congress leader Kapil Sibal.
• There is no role guaranteed for any Indian Public Sector Company, including HAL. Congress alleges it is a move to promote the interest of one industrial group.
• The current deal has a 50% offset component. Accordingly, Dassault will manufacture items worth 50% of the deal in India. However, the absence of transfer of technology component is raised an issue.
Generally, there is a rule for sharing the cost of defence-deal with the parliament but in some cases, the details can be kept secret for reasons of national security. Nevertheless, it is the duty of the government to share the pricing details with the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament.
Recently, Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman denied to share the costs of the Rafale fighters under the deal in the Parliament. However, in 2016, she shared the prices in the Lok Sabha in a written reply.
According to the material exchanged under Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA), it is governed by the provisions of the Security Agreement. There are two reasons why the deal is being guarded secretly because, firstly, the price of engines or cost per weaponry makes it easier for the enemy countries to adjudge the deterrence and deep strike capability of the assets. This beats the very essence of procuring advanced fighter jets. Secondly, these commercial deals are carried out on the basis of preferential pricing, which is not fixed. It may vary from buyer to buyer. The seller considers this as a disadvantage to reveal the actual prices and discounts because it reduces their bargaining power vis-a-vis other customers.
In the combat between the BJP and Congress, the real purpose of the deal is being avoided. Somewhere in the game of allegations, national security has been sidelined. The procurement of combat aircraft is overdue for a long time and the further delay in the deal can only make things worse. The Indian Air Force is in urgent need of fighter jets, therefore the government must give priority towards the final execution of the Rafale deal rather than playing blames games with the Congress.