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We have ear­lier com­mented in this space a cou­ple of weeks ago that if any­thing was out of step in the Rafale deal, it was that the Prime Min­is­ter short-cir­cuited the long-winded pro­cesses in­volved to clinch the deal with the man­u­fac­tur­ers ahead of his State visit to France. Yes, if you strictly go with the pro­to­cols in­volved, you could say Modi showed im­pa­tience with the multi-lay­ered ex­er­cise in­volved be­fore ink­ing the agree­ment to pur­chase the fighter jets from the French Daus­salt Avi­a­tion, the gov­ern­ment­con­trolled com­pany. There was not an iota of cor­rup­tion in­volved. Much is be­ing made out of the pub­li­ca­tion of an ex­tract from a De­fence Min­istry which in­di­cates the un­easi­ness in the min­istry due to the in­volve­ment of the PMO in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process. The De­fence Sec­re­tary at the time, Mo­han Ku­mar, noted the con­cern of the min­istry in this re­gard. But what the news re­port mis­chie­vously failed to re­port is the not­ing of the De­fence Min­is­ter at the time which em­phat­i­cally clears the con­fu­sion. Manohar Par­rikar noted that the “PMO and the French Pres­i­dent’s of­fice are mon­i­tor­ing the progress of is­sues which was an out­come of the sum­mit meet­ing” and the de­fence sec­re­tary’s con­cern ap­pears to be an over­re­ac­tion. Fur­ther, Par­rikar wrote that “de­fence sec­re­tary may re­solve mat­ter in con­sul­ta­tion with the Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary to the PM.” To make a moun­tain of this mole­hill is wrong. But there ap­pears to be noth­ing that would stop Rahul Gandhi to pull down Modi to his own tainted level so that he could es­tab­lish some sort of equiv­a­lence be­tween him and the Gandhi fam­ily when it comes to cor­rup­tion. As we noted in this space, Modi in his zeal to clinch a deal which had been hang­ing fire for over a decade, rus­tled up ad­e­quate funds for thirty-six fighter jets to meet the ur­gent need of the In­dian Air Force, with­out car­ing for the niceties of pro­to­col which had re­sulted in unend­ing de­lays and dither­ing with­out fruc­ti­fy­ing into a firm agree­ment. Con­sider this vi­tal fact. Months be­fore the 2014 elec­tion, De­fence Min­is­ter A K Antony had said on cam­era that there was nei­ther any time nor money to or­der the jets and these could be pur­chased by the next govern­ment. The next govern­ment was headed by a man who was de­ter­mined to clear the sys­temic cob­webs, in­ject com­plete hon­esty in the process and press ahead with quick de­ci­sion­mak­ing. Hence, the PMO’s di­rect in­ter­est in clinch­ing the Rafale deal with the French with­out any fur­ther de­lay. Pro­ce­dural short­com­ings in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing do not make a scan­dal, they only cause an ad­verse not­ing by the CAG or by other mon­i­tor­ing au­thor­i­ties.

A scan­dal in­volves cut­ting out one ven­dor in favour of another. The Rafale was se­lected by a se­lec­tion com­mit­tee un­der the UPA. If the UPA did not or­der the jets it may well be that Robert Vadra was in­sist­ing that San­jay Bhandari, the no­to­ri­ous mid­dle­man, be made the off­sets part­ner. That would also ex­plain why in spite of long ne­go­ti­a­tions with the State-owned Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­ti­cal Lim­ited, no agree­ment could be reached on the off­sets part­ner. Maybe HAL was made to put up un­rea­son­able con­di­tions which Das­sault would find hard to meet. There­fore, Antony sat on the deal in­def­i­nitely. The other way the Rafale deal can be dubbed a scam is if some­one had taken bribes. Not even Modi’s vis­ceral en­e­mies and haters sug­gest even re­motely that Modi or any­one close to him has taken a paise from this deal or, for that mat­ter, any other. Bri­betak­ing would jus­ti­fi­ably al­low Rahul to claim that Modi has now aped his later father who had gone out of the way to sign up with the Bo­fors so that Un­cle Qu­at­tor­c­chi could walk away with over twenty mil­lion dol­lars in bribes. Yes, Modi’s re­fusal to lay the en­tire Rafale facts on the ta­ble, in­clud­ing the part that re­veals the PMO in­volve­ment in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, has led to avoid­able con­tro­versy. We are con­vinced he has noth­ing to hide bar the mi­nor in­fringe­ment of the well-laid out bu­reau­cratic process. As for Rahul, his chant­ing chor,

chor only re­flects the im­age he finds in the mir­ror with­out in any­way dent­ing the PM’s im­age. Yet, PM would ben­e­fit by is­su­ing a white pa­per on the Rafale deal to put the record straight.

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