Congress president Rahul Gandhi today opened the debate in Lok Sabha on the Rafale deal accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of favouring his “dear friend” and a “failed businessman” through the Rafale deal. Stormy scenes and high drama followed, amid which some members of the opposition flew paper planes while others protested. In between flew some incorrect bits of information.
Here’s what Rahul Gandhi missed, or chose to miss:
Claim 1: ‘Defence Ministry officials’ objected to the ‘new price’ of the fighter.
Fact: According to The Indian Express, an official of the Defence Ministry, who was at one point a member of the Contract Negotiations Committee, had put on record his objection to the new benchmark price, not the final price of the Rafale aircraft which Rahul Gandhi was referring to. But there’s more.
One, according to the same report, the objections were overruled by another senior official of the Ministry of Defence.
And two, according to the Daily Mail, two senior officials had questioned the deal during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's rule. The report, which appeared in the daily in February 2012, says that “two officials of the defence ministry have questioned the methods adopted by the contract negotiation committee which concluded that Rafale was the lowest bidder”.
Claim 2: The HAL has built Su-30s, ‘Mirage aircraft’ and MiG-27s.
Fact: India acquired Dassault Aviation-built Mirage-2000s from France. The fighter jet was not built in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
Claim 3: Anil Ambani floated Reliance Defence 10 days before Prime Minister Modi announced the Rafale deal with France.
Fact: This claim was first put out by Congress mouthpiece National Herald, for which it was sued by Anil Ambani. Since then, the National Herald has changed its headline to say that Anil Ambani floated the company, Reliance Defence, just “12 days before Modi announced Rafale deal”.
Claim 4: Anil Ambani’s firm received ‘HAL’s contract’.
Fact: This claim has been the core of Rahul Gandhi’s attack against the government. However, it is incorrect. To begin with, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence is not a part of the Rafale deal. It will not be manufacturing the Rafale fighters for the Indian Air Force, therefore is not replacing HAL which was supposed to manufacture 108 fighters in India as part of the deal proposed under UPA. Dassault Aviation has chosen Reliance Defence as a partner for the execution of the offset clause.
Under the offset policy, introduced by the UPA, when foreign equipment manufacturers sign a deal to supply equipment to India, they are required to invest a part of the contract value in the country. The Rafale deal signed by the Modi government incorporated 50 per cent offset clause, ensuring that 50 per cent of the deal's amount will be invested in the Indian defence ecosystem.
Claim 5: ‘President of France’ says Prime Minister Modi 'ordered us’ to give the Rafale deal ‘contract’ to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence.
Fact: Former French president Francois Hollande had last year said that the Indian government suggested Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence for the Rafale jet deal, but he did not name Prime Minister Modi. “The Indian government proposed this service group and Dassault negotiated with Ambani. We did not have a choice,” he was quoted as saying in September.
The former French president had made this statement soon after a report which appeared in The Indian Express in August said that Reliance Entertainment helped produce a film for Hollande’s partner and actor Julie Gayet. However, Hollande withdrew the comment soon after and said “only Dassault can comment on this”.
Claim 6: Anil Ambani gets Rs 30,000 crores from the contract.
Fact: The offsets under the deal are divided between four firms: Dassault, which will build the air frame and integrate the aircraft with equipment from various firms; Thales, which will build the radars and avionics; Safran which will manufacture the engines and electronics; and MBDA, responsible for the weapons.
As the deal was worth nearly Rs 60,000 crore, offsets work out to be around 30,000 crore (50 per cent). Of this, Dassault is responsible for the execution of offsets worth 6,500 crore, according to Air Marshal R Nambiar, who was heading the negotiations with Dassault for the Rafale fighters during the UPA era.
A report in the Economic Times says Reliance would get an investment of about Rs 845 crore, nearly 3 per cent of total offsets. The venture will reportedly manufacture parts of the Dassault’s Falcon jet. A small amount would also be invested by Thales, which will set up an assembly line to manufacture avionics and radar.
Therefore, Reliance Defence is getting a very small part of the pie.
State-owned firms like the Defence Research and Development Organisation and HAL will also get investments. Reports say that engine and electronics maker Safran will invest in both the firms. While DRDO may get funding to revive the Kaveri jet engine programme, HAL is likely to enter into a joint venture with the company to manufacture helicopter engines. Another state-owned firm, Bharat Electronics Limited, is likely to get investment from Thales.
Claim 7: French president Emmanuel Macron told him and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that he does not have any objection to Modi government disclosing the pricing details of the fighter jet deal.
Fact: Rahul Gandhi, along Singh, had met with Macron in March 2018 during the latter’s visit to India. But soon after Rahul Gandhi claimed that Macron told him the price could be revealed, French authorities issued a statement saying that the agreement signed with India “legally binds the two States to protect the classified information provided by the partner”.
Moreover, statements made by the French President on the Rafale deal during his visit to India contradicts Rahul Gandhi’s claim. In an interview, Macron said, “The deal is very sensitive. We can't reveal details because of business reasons.”
“Part of the absence of answers to some technical issues is these commercial agreements and the interests of different companies,” Macron was quoted as saying in the interview. Macron had praised the Modi government for negotiating a “very good” deal with his country. “I wasn't part of it, but I have to say the negotiations were a win-win situation for both of us,” he had said.
These facts undermine Rahul Gandhi’s claims that the deal was negotiated to benefit Anil Ambani’s firm. Whether this stops him and his party from repeating these ad nauseam in and outside the parliament, is of course a different matter.
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