Who will tell Indians Rafale deal may be a scam?

France has started to identify names, faces and amounts. But in India we’re still innocent babes. The sad truth is whether we understand it or not, it’s our money & defence policy that's at risk here

Who will tell Indians Rafale deal may be a scam?

Ranjona Banerji

The Rafale deal surfaces again. No thanks to the Indian media or to the Indian opposition parties. It is the French media, French NGOs and the French judiciary which have persistently kept the controversial Rafale deal alive.

Modi triumphantly announced, in April 2015, that he had overturned an earlier UPA deal for 126 aircraft which included manufacture by Hindustan Aeronautics and a transfer of technology, for an outright sale of 36 fighters, made by Dassault Aviation. The new partner would be Anil Ambani’s Reliance, which had no experience whatsoever in either aviation or defence manufacturing.

However, the discrepancies of the Rafale deal, the allegations of favouritism and corruption, the clear differences in price and delivery dates for the fighters between one government deal and the next, have not substantially dented Modi’s reputation as apparently incorruptible, because he has no acknowledged wife or children. (In the Indian understanding of corruption, it is children that are most likely to make you lose your moral compass and ethical education apparently. People who don’t have children by default are extremely honest. Small wonders that Indians crave for and produce many children?

The several question marks around Modi’s deal of 36 outright aircraft at a high price, the choice of Anil Ambani as a partner for Dassault and the cancellation of the transfer of technology seemingly become irrelevant when faced with Modi’s enormous popularity, his addiction to acronyms, the size of his kurtas, the length of his beard and so on.

Unlike the Bofors case – the yardstick for defence-related corruption in India – the Rafale scam has just not managed to capture the public imagination.

Or, let me reframe that. The Rafale scam has been discussed, machinations and disparities all. But it has remained as some defence gobbledygook up there in another realm, out of comprehension for the ordinary person. It’s not that we don’t understand corruption. Given the number of children we have and the condition of our everyday life and business atmosphere, we understand under-the-table brown envelopes all too well.

It just depends on how it’s told to us. Bofors, with all of Rs.64 crore, was sold to us as corruption. But Rafale just hasn’t been properly marketed as a scam.

We need a culprit to be identified and a money trail to be bandied about – proven or otherwise – for it to be understood. We need relentless hammer-and-tongs attention and loud noise. We need constant reminding of what’s at stake. Is it our reputation? Is it the money being spent, money which we don’t have? Is it someone making a fool out of us? Is it someone up there playing games as usual while promising us a ride we’ll never get?

We need names and faces. We need a target.

France has started to identify names, faces and amounts: A $9.3 billion sale that implicates a sitting and a former head of government. A judicial inquiry is to begin. The stage is set.

In India however, we’re still innocent babes, trying to nudge our parents towards bribery. Or desperate adults, worried about our collapsing economy, our collapsed healthcare, maddening inflation, vaccines we want but can’t get, constant social upheaval and violence, rampant discrimination of minority religions and lower castes, attacks on women…what is the significance of this controversial aeroplane deal that no one explains to us properly? Is the Rafale deal, as a friend pointed out, not close enough to the people for them to comprehend its scale?

The bulk of the Indian mainstream media I’m afraid is not going to do it. They await instructions from the government, and we all know how that plays out. That leaves NGOs, all of whom are presented as anti-nationals. In which case, the only option lies with India’s opposition parties and how much potential they see in the Rafale scam.

The sad truth is that whether we understand it or not, it’s our money and our possible defence strategy that is at risk here. Modi’s not gifting us the planes from his bank balance and nor is any bankrupt Indian industrialist.

But a scam it seems is not a scam unless it’s sold to us as one. And so far, that marketing effort has been a dud. Anyone want to take it up?

(Views are personal)

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Published: 04 Jul 2021, 1:00 PM