The move by the Supreme Court to seek details of the decision making process in the controversial Rafale aircraft deal is clearly a loss of face for the Modi government as the Opposition has been insisting that PM Modi had personally intervened to alter the terms of the deal to favour Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence. The government has so far refused to share details of the deal citing national security considerations as well as an understanding between India and France, which both sides claim to be integral to the deal, although subsequent disclosures have put a question mark over some of the claims.
Though the court stopped short of sending a notice to the government while hearing several public interest litigations on the controversial deal, it asked the government to submit in a sealed envelope details of the process through which the decision was taken. Accepting the government’s argument about the possibility of national security being compromised, the court clarified that it was not calling for the details of the price of the aircraft or its technical details, but the move to examine the manner in which the government finalised the deal is a huge embarrassment for Modi, who has been less than forthcoming on the deal.
The government seems to have tied itself in knots by refusing to disclose the details as the French side has maintained that the terms relating to the selection of the manufacturing partner for Dassault Aviation were decided by India. The government’s predicament has become all the more difficult by the latest disclosure in the French media that the selection of the Ambani company was done at the behest of the Indian side. A Dassault document quotes a senior executive to the effect that the company had no choice. This further strengths the fears that Modi sacrificed the public sector HAL, the most eligible partner for the manufacturing contract, to accommodate his friend’s company, which was apparently set up only for bagging the deal and had no prior experience.
With the deal turning clumsier, it is obvious that Rafale has become an albatross around the neck of the Modi government, which is increasingly finding itself in discomfort and cornered as there are several questionable aspects of the deal. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who initially raised it out of the blue, has of late been scoring over the Prime Minister, especially when it comes to Modi’s personal involvement. Rahul seems to have come up with his own match for the infamous Bofors deal, which the then Opposition had used to the tilt to hand down a humiliating defeat to his father. It is in a way a sweet revenge for the son that he may be in a position to return the compliment in even greater measure.