NEW DELHI: If Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dramatic decision to clear the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets in ‘ready to fly’ condition has come without any details, very much like the nuclear ‘centre piece’ of his meeting with US President Barack Obama where the Foreign Secretary declared “the deal is done” although the details of what was finally agreed on are still awaited.
The questions that need answers are:
1. What are the terms and conditions for the supply of the 36—instead of the original 18—ready to fly Rafale aircraft? What will be the overall cost for the 36 aircraft. The price for the 18 aircraft that was part of the original L-1 tender was about $two billion, going up to unconfirmed figures of $ four billion. Now that the numbers have doubled to 36, which would require infrastructural maintenance and sustenance what will India be paying for Prime Minister Modi’s commitment?
2. Is this a stand alone deal? Or part of the original contract for the supply of 126 fighter jets?
3. How soon is the ‘soon’? Dassault Aviation has an average of producing just 11 fighter jets a year. What is the time frame that has been discussed? Or has it been discussed at all?
4. What happens to the remaining 90 fighter jets? The contract was for 126 aircraft with 108 in the original understanding to be manufactured by public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Dassault had not agreed to the Indian insistence to stand guarantee for these aircraft. Does it mean that HAL will no longer be in the picture?
5. Who then will get the contract for the remaining 90 fighters planes? Will it now go to the private sector? And currently in the private sector those with their homework in place are the Ambanis, so are they being considered for the contract?
6. And of course the million dollar question: how was this deal reached? Who negotiated it? And on what basis? This has led to grave speculation in defence circles, with reports of a one on one meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande suggesting a trade off?True, what are the contours?
These are just six questions, and if asked by MP’s when Parliament resumes on April 23 there could then be some clarity on the deal that gives the French a good slice of the Indian defence pie. Even the basic cost of the new deal has not been disclosed, on or off the record.
The covers have still not lifted over the nuclear agreement with President Obama with no clarity on how, or if at all, the government broke the ice on the Nuclear Liability Law that had held up the implementation of the civilian nuclear energy agreement. It is not clear what was conceded, or not, by the top leadership and where exactly does the deal stand at the moment? Speculation based on ‘informed sources’ has appeared in the media as news and analysis, but on the record information still continues to defy those reporting on the issue.
Significantly the one despondent figure threatening to approach the courts on the Rafale deal is BJP leader Subramanian Swamy. He has been agitating for the deal to be scrapped right since Dassault Aviation got the contract. In an interview recently to the media, Swamy insisted that the deal had been given to the French company following “private conversations between Sonia Gandhi, her sisters and Carla Bruni, wife of then French president Nicolas Sarkozy.” He has still to edify the ‘nation’ as to who is behind Prime Minister Modi’s decision.