Double trouble: India’s opposition, France seek probe into $8.7 billion Rafale deal

Double trouble: India’s opposition, France seek probe into $8.7 billion Rafale deal
An Indian Air Force Rafale fighter jet lands in Bangalore. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 July 2021

Double trouble: India’s opposition, France seek probe into $8.7 billion Rafale deal

Double trouble: India’s opposition, France seek probe into $8.7 billion Rafale deal
  • Ruling BJP government dismisses calls for a domestic investigation
  • Reports of the French probe on Saturday have reignited interest in the case

NEW DELHI: India’s opposition parties and civil society leaders ramped up demands on Sunday for a new review of the government’s $8.7 billion deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets with France a day after the European nation ordered a judicial probe into the controversial transaction five years ago.
“Now the French, after a long time, have started an investigation . . . They would have had lots of prima facie evidence on the basis of which they would have taken this decision,” Yashwant Sinha, a political activist who launched a 2018 petition to investigage the deal, told Arab News on Sunday.

“Shall we wait for the French to . . . tell us what the truth is, or should we not as a sovereign country determine it ourselves?” said Sinha, who served as the foreign minister and finance minister for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government between 1999 and 2004.
Several media outlets reported on Saturday that a judge had been appointed to lead a “highly sensitive” judicial probe ordered by the French Public Prosecution Services (PFN) into the deal, which has been embroiled in controversy ever since the government, led by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, acquired the ready-to-fly fighter jets from France’s Dassault Aviation in 2016.
It marked India’s first major acquisition of combat planes in two decades and propelled Modi’s plan to rebuild an aging fleet.
However, the deal has been at the center of allegations from India’s main opposition party, Congress, which said that Modi had overpaid for the jets and forced Dassault to accept Indian businessman Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defense as its domestic partner even though the company had no experience as a defense contractor.
Dassault, which had initially won a contract in 2012 to supply 126 jets to India, was in talks with an Indian public sector aerospace company, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), to be its Indian partner.
Several opposition parties, led by the Congress, called the deal a scam and made it one of their main poll planks in the 2019 general elections, with former party chief Rahul Gandhi calling Modi a “thief.”
Reports of the French probe on Saturday have reignited interest in the case, which was buried after the Supreme Court’s controversial decision to give a clean chit to the Modi regime.
“The (order by France for a) probe confirms our thesis that prima facie, that is on the face of it, there was some illegal monetary transaction,” Sinha said.
Sinha resigned from the BJP after Modi assumed top office and recently joined the regional Trinamool Congress party in the eastern state of West Bengal.
In 2018, he, along with his ministerial colleague Arun Shourie and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, filed a petition with the Supreme Court, demanding that the country’s premier investigative agency, the Center Bureau of Investigation (CBI), conduct an investigation into the Rafale deal.
Sinha said that he is pushing for a joint investigation between India and France.
“We would still like the CBI to not only probe the case but do it now in cooperation, collaboration with the French agency,” he said.
On Sunday, the Congress party said that it felt “vindicated” after the investigation ordered by the French PFN and demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) be set up, which includes members of all political parties.
“The Rafale deal was . . . between two sides — two countries in this context — the government of France and India, Pawan Khera, Congress party’s spokesperson, told Arab News on Sunday. “Now, given that the PNF has initiated an investigation into corruption allegations against the previous and probably the current president of France, who was one of the parties to this deal, why is no enquiry being ordered on the role, on the undeniable role of the key functionaries of the government of India, which is the other side of this multi-crore intergovernmental agreement?” Khera asked, demanding a similar inquiry in India.
“It is downright insulting to the people of India that this government and its ministers have stayed tight-lipped about this entire scandal. Why is the minister of defense silent? (Where is the) accountability and scrutiny?” he added.
The ruling BJP government, however, dismissed calls for an investigation, calling Gandhi an “agent of rival defense companies.”
“The way Rahul Gandhi is behaving, it will not be an exaggeration to say that he is being used as a pawn by competing companies,” Sambit Patra, BJP spokesperson, told reporters on Saturday.
“He has been lying right from the beginning on the issue. Probably, he is acting as an agent, or some member of Gandhi family has been for a competing company,” he added.
Political analysts, however, turned the spotlight on PM Modi, saying that an adverse report by France could be “politically damaging” for the premier.
“In the event of the investigation finding some irregularities, then it is going to be hugely embarrassing and politically damaging for Modi personally,” Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst, told Arab News.


“If the finding comes close to the 2024 general elections, then it is going to be doubly dangerous for the BJP,” Mukhopadhyay, who wrote Modi’s 2014 biography “Narendra Modi: The Man, the Times,” explained, adding that the probe was “a shot in the arm for India’s opposition parties.”
“It will definitely give ammunition to India’s opposition parties, primarily the Congress party and its leader Rahul Gandhi, that the allegations made were not completely unsubstantiated because even the French court feels that prima facie there is a need for a more detailed and consistent investigation,” he said.
Sinha agrees that Modi’s image is at stake.
“The biggest virtue propagated before the people of this country is that he (Modi) is a very honest person. If an illegal transaction, corruption has taken place in the Rafale, then clearly that image is going to be demolished,” he said.