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Opinion

Rafale deal: No disagreements with the Air Chief Marshal, but the basic question is corruption

The Central Government, which is trapped in the accusation of benefiting its favourite industrialists on the Rafael aircraft purchase, has now started using the top officers of the defense forces. The way the Chief of Air Staff came out and spoke in favour of the Rafale aircraft on Wednesday, clearly indicates that the government has been rattled by the Rafale controversy and wants to leave no stone unturned to defend itself.

In fact, the opposition has now become aggressive in its attack on the Central government over the controversial deal. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has accused the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister of misleading the country in this matter, while senior advocate Prashant Bhushan and former Union Minister Arun Shourie have directly mentioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name in this matter.

Amid these allegations, the Indian Air Force has clarified its position. Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said on Wednesday that the Central government is providing them with Rafael fighter aircraft. He said that with the help of these planes, IAF will be able to face many difficulties. Speaking at an event in New Delhi the Chief of the Air Force stressed that very few countries were facing challenges like India, which is surrounded by "two nuclear-armed neighbours". He further said the IAF was already down with only 31 squadrons from the sanctioned strength of 42. "Even when we do have 42 (squadrons), we will be below the combined strength of our two adversaries," he remarked. He also added that we do not have many weapons and considering this, it will be difficult to match force level of our adversaries.

However, no one has refuted this statement by the Air Force Chief that the Air Force of the country needs to be strengthened. Neither the opposition nor any military expert has questioned the need for fighter aircraft for the IAF.

Notably, the previous government had proposed to buy 126 Rafael aircrafts considering the future challenges of IAF. The entire controversy over the Rafael airline deal is centered around alleged corruption involved in the purchase of fighter jets.

The deal proposed by the UPA government was aimed at buying 126 Rafale fighter jets, and had demanded certain changes in the aircraft that suit the peculiar requirements of Indian Air Force. Not only this, the public sector company Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), was also the partner company for bringing required changes in the aircraft under the proposed deal.

Ironically, the current government not only reduced the number of Rafael planes under the renewed deal, but allegedly increased their price threefold. Additionally, the Central government has excluded the public sector company HAL from the deal only to include a private player, its favourite Reliance Defense. The entire opposition, including the Congress, is opposing this aspect of the Rafale Aircraft deal, and not the capability or the urgent requirement of the Rafael fighter jets for IAF.

There is an old saying, “On the head of the thief, burns his hat!” Here’s a classic case in the point: When Modi government is not left with any valid argument to defend the dubious deal, an effort is being made to justify it through IAF officers.

Prior to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal SB Dev, Deputy Chief of Air Force, had also put forth his opinion on the Rafale deal. Dev asserted that those criticising the Rafael deal need to understand the set norms and procurement process. “Rafale is a great aircraft. It is a very capable aircraft and the Air Force is waiting to fly it,” he had maintained.

But the question here is also the same that no one has raised doubts over the the defense capabilities of the Rafale fighter aircrafts. The entire issue is about ambiguity around the price of these aircrafts and inclusion of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defense after excluding state-run HAL from the new deal.

Congress has alleged that the deal finalised by the UPA govt cost less than the one struck by the Modi govt, claiming that the government is purchasing the aircraft at much higher prices. The party has further asserted that under the new deal, there is no mention of any technology transfer to the country.

According to the former Union minister AK Antony, as per the deal finalised by the UPA government a total of 126 aircrafts had to be bought, out of which 18 were to be manufactured in France and rest were scheduled to be made in India by HAL.

But the present government has not only reduced the number of the aircrafts but also made a “dubious” private company, which is new and inexperienced in arms manufacturing, a partner in the deal. This is questionable.

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