India’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft shows “textbook ingredients” of misuse of public office amounting to “criminal misconduct”, alleged former Union Minister Arun Shourie.
In an interview with BloombergQuint, Shourie, who was a minister in the National Democratic Alliance government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said the Narendra Modi administration has failed to explain why a deal for 126 Rafale aircraft after years of negotiation was scrapped and replaced with another one for just 36 planes.
Shourie, former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha and activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan questioned the deal over many aspects in a statement that was released in Delhi on Aug. 8. The trio, at a press conference in the national capital, had countered the government’s claim that it had no role in Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence & Aerospace Ltd. obtaining offset contracts from Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale aircraft.
Reliance Defence refuted the allegations. The company said in a statement that no contract has been given to any Reliance Group company by the Ministry of Defence related to the purchase of the 36 Rafale aircraft.
The government also denied any wrongdoing, with Union Minister Arun Jaitley calling the allegations “distortion and misinformation”.
Shourie, however, said the government can’t distance itself from the benefits accrued to Reliance Defence because guidelines stipulate that no offset deal can be finalised unless it’s approved by the acquisition officer of the Defence Ministry and the Defence Minister.
The controversy, Shourie said, has mapped out three key contentious issues:
- Why was the deal changed allegedly at the last minute from 126 fighter planes to 36?
- Why was Reliance Defence given offset contracts without any track record of manufacture in the aviation industry?
- Why have we paid Rs 1000 crore more per aircraft than what was originally negotiated?
Defence economist Abhijit Iyer-Mitra offered a contrarian view. “Every single allegation of process violation is very selective reading,” he said. At the most, said the senior fellow at Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, there could be a case of “incompetence or poor communication from the Modi government”.