India’s top court to review fighter jet deal

India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to review its earlier decision on a controversial fighter jet deal. (Shutterstock)
Updated 10 April 2019
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India’s top court to review fighter jet deal

  • Opposition accused government of graft
  • Congress leader Rahul Gandhi welcomed the decision

NEW DELHI: India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to review its earlier decision on a controversial fighter jet deal, dealing a blow to the government on the eve of a general election. 

The opposition Congress Party has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration of graft following a deal to buy 36 Rafale planes and the decision to pick Reliance Defense, owned by billionaire Anil Ambani, as a domestic partner. Reliance has no aeronautical expertise and was chosen ahead of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., which does, triggering allegations of a scam.

The court said in December there was no evidence of commercial favoritism and that there was no need for intervention.

But it has now accepted a petition to review its earlier judgment on the basis of documents published by the media over the past four months.

It also dismissed objections from the government, which said the documents were stolen and could not be valid evidence.

“We deem it proper to dismiss the preliminary objections to hold and affirm that the review petitions will be adjudicated on their merits on the basis of the relevance of the three documents whose admissibility was questioned by the respondents (the government),” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi said.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi welcomed the decision. “The Supreme Court has done justice today. The Supreme Court has accepted that there was corruption in Rafale and if the PM debates the issue with me, he will not be able to see eye-to-eye with the people of the country,” he said.

The Hindu newspaper reported that the deal signed by Modi in 2016 for 36 Rafael jets was $276 million, and more expensive than the estimated cost of the 126 aircraft deal originally negotiated for by the previous government.

It also reported that the prime minister’s office and Defense Ministry were conducting parallel negotiations, and that Modi’s government gave unprecedented waivers in the offset agreement to the French company.

India’s political parties have been gunning for Modi over the purchase of the Rafale planes from Dassault Aviation, saying he overpaid for them and had not been transparent.

Sitaram Yechury, from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said that Modi and his government had compromised national security for “corruption and cronyism” in an important defense deal.

But the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) denied any wrongdoing.

“There is nothing to hide. It is only an effort to create confusion in the minds of the people,” said BJP general secretary Ram Madhav as he dismissed the political repercussions. “You see, people trust Modi more than anybody else.”

Analyst Satish Misra, from the Observer Research Foundation, said the ruling would have an impact on people’s perceptions.

“So far, the perception has been managed well by Modi. This is the first time there is a problem confronting the prime minister,” he told Arab News. “It all depends on how the opposition exploits it. Until today the Rafale issue was only being raised by Congress. If all the parties raise this issue, this will resonate in the elections. Right now, the national security issue is dominating the election. Will this ruling overtake the prevailing narrative? It remains to be seen.”

Another analyst said the Supreme Court move was a blow to the ruling party.

“The very fact that the Supreme Court is willing to accept the media reports as evidence is a big setback for the government,” Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay told Arab News. “The opposition has a stick to beat the government with. Whether the issue can resonate in the election depends upon how it (the opposition) uses it in the campaign.”


Japan drops ‘maximum pressure’ on North Korea from diplomatic book

Updated 53 min 28 sec ago
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Japan drops ‘maximum pressure’ on North Korea from diplomatic book

  • Language was dropped after consideration of latest developments surrounding North Korea
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seen as a foreign policy hawk, has also softened his rhetoric toward North Korea

TOKYO: Japan on Tuesday dropped the push to apply “maximum pressure” on North Korea from its official foreign policy, an apparent softening of Tokyo’s position as major powers engage with Pyongyang.
In last year’s “Diplomatic Bluebook,” published when tensions on the Korean peninsula were soaring, Japan said it was coordinating efforts with its allies to “maximize pressure on North Korea by all available means.”
But this language was dropped from this year’s edition, drawn up after diplomats had “taken comprehensively into account the latest developments surrounding North Korea,” according to chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga.
“There have been major developments in the situation surrounding North Korea in light of events such as the US-North Korea summits in June last year and February,” Suga told reporters.
Abe, seen as a foreign policy hawk, has also softened his rhetoric toward North Korea, frequently offering to meet leader Kim Jong Un to negotiate the decades-old issue of Japanese civilians kidnapped by the North.
“Japan seeks to normalize its relations with North Korea by comprehensively resolving outstanding issues of concern such as the abductions, nuclear and missile issues as well as settling an unfortunate past,” Suga said.
Tokyo has been one of the most hawkish of the major powers on North Korea and has been on the receiving end of some of Pyongyang’s harshest rhetoric — as well as missiles launched over its territory.
Until late 2017, North Korea repeatedly tested missiles that flew toward or over Japan, sparking warnings blared out on loudspeakers and stoking calls for a tough stance against Pyongyang.
However, Japan now finds itself battling to keep itself relevant in the fast-moving North Korea issue as Kim expands his diplomatic circle.
Kim is now preparing for talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, after multiple meetings with US President Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.
Abe will soon meet Trump at the White House where the issue of North Korea is bound to be on the table.