By Sushil Kutty
Rafale, the fighter jet France made and India bought. The Modi Government could have chosen the UK’s Eurofighter, but it plumbed for Rafale. Why? There’s a whiff of a kickback, says former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who can’t let go of the thought; more like he wouldn’t let go of the thought. ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’, he coined in 2018, and it became common talk before the 2019 general elections. No prizes for guessing who ‘chowkidar’ was? Everybody knew, especially those who attended Rahul Gandhi’s rallies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi used to fondly refer to himself as ‘Chowkidar’, and Rahul Gandhi used to loudly ask people to repeat after him ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’.
Then, the word ‘Chor’ rang out in the Supreme Court, and Rahul Gandhi tendered an apology, which Modi acolytes said vindicated Modi. The Supreme Court also ruled out hanky-panky in the Rafale deal, and Modi went to town with that to win GE 2019 with a thumping majority. Everybody thereafter thought that the Rafale controversy was history.
Wrong. ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’ is back in flight today. Now with ‘Chor Ki Daadi Mein…’ And Rahul Gandhi is grinning, from ear to ear, “Didn’t I tell you?” Yup. Thanks to the French website ‘Mediapart’, which in April of this year ran a series of damning reports on the 2016 intergovernmental Rafale deal. So, two months hence, the French have begun a judicial probe into the allegations of corruption in the sale of the 36 Rafale to India. And the Opposition here is asking for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe.
The Modi Government is like Rolls Royce, impervious to surround sound, silent to calls for the JPC. But BJP/Modi is in a fix. April 2021 was Narendra Modi’s worst month in seven years. Also when the Delta variant of Covid-19 laid waste India, and must have seriously hurt Modi’s chances for a third term.
A French judge is now conducting the “highly sensitive” judicial investigation in the Rafale deal. “A judicial probe into suspected corruption has been opened in the 7.8 billion euro sale of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft,” Mediapart reported. “The highly sensitive probe into the intergovernmental deal by the national financial prosecutors’ office (PNF) formally opened on June 14.”
The PNF had at first refused to investigate the sale, and Mediapart had accused PNF of trying to “bury” the investigation. The charges being probed include “corruption”, “influence peddling”, “money laundering”, “favouritism” and “undue tax wavering”. The PNF is the financial crimes branch of the French public prosecution services.
The criminal investigation will examine questions surrounding the actions of former French president François Hollande and current French president Emmanuel Macron. The French are particularly fascinated that in the fourth week of March 2015, about a fortnight before Modi announced the deal, industrialist and businessman Anil Ambani visited then French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s office in Paris.
What’s intriguing is that Dassault and Reliance have a joint venture, Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited, with 51 per cent Reliance Aerostructure share and 49 per cent Dassault Aviation share, and there’s an industrial plant in Nagpur for discharge of offsets.
Now, the Congress wants a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the Rafale deal. The party says the Prime Minister has to “answer to the nation”, to which the BJP says there cannot be another “fishing and roving enquiry” after an “earlier attempt by Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, Prashant Bhushan and AAP MP Sanjay Singh in December 2018 was nipped in the bud by the Supreme Court.”
The SC had then found “no reason for intervention…”, “no occasion to doubt the decision-making process” and “certainly not the job of this court to carry out a comparison of pricing details.” It will be interesting, therefore, to see what the Supreme Court will say and do once the French judicial probe comes to a conclusion, and if that conclusion matches Rahul Gandhi’s that “Chowkidar (is indeed) Chor Hai.”
The long and short of it is Narendra Modi is passing through a particularly bad phase. He is like that star-crossed lover for whom nothing’s going right. West Bengal, 2nd Covid wave, UP panchayat Elections, Stan Swamy’s ‘ custodial murder’, and now the resurrection of Rafale! A visit to Paris will bring home to Narendra Modi overhead road signs that read ‘Aux Vents E Rafales’, which means ‘beware of gusts’ and ‘rafales’ means ‘gusts’. The ‘vents en rafales’ – the sudden gusts – are continuously buffeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, periodically, and frequently. (IPA Service)