By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: On a day five Rafale fighter jets landed at the Ambala air base, political slug fest over the aircraft purchased continued with Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailing the high-tech flying machines and the opposition Indian National Congress questioning the deal.
Union Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, who was ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president when the Congress Party raised the Rafale issue, said the induction of these next generation aircraft was a true testimony of Modi’s resolve to make India a powerful and secure nation.
“Modi government is committed to build on India’s defence capabilities. I thank the honourable Prime Minister for providing this unprecedented strength to our IAF,” said Shah.
Former Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi, who had alleged corruption in the Rafale jet deal and made it a huge political plank in the 2019 national elections, welcomed the aircraft arrival, but questioned the deal itself.
The issue did not bring any electoral dividend to the Congress Party in the Lok Sabha (House of the People of the Parliament of India or the lower house under the bicameral system) elections last year though Rahul Gandhi gambled on the Rafale deal by harping on it as an election issue.
The Congress Party, which got just 44 of the total 543 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 national polls could win only 52 of the total 543 seats in the 2019 national elections. In contrast, the BJP, which had got 282 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 polls, went up to 303 in 2019.
Rahul’s main objections relate to the pricing of the jets, and he claimed the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under then prime minister Manmohan Singh had negotiated a cheaper deal but Modi signed a new deal in 2015 with former French President Francois Hollande, which was expensive.
The price difference, he said, had caused loss to the government exchequer and even pressed for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal. The Congress Party repeatedly demanded that Modi make a statement on the deal in Parliament of India.
Rahul said the UPA negotiated price for each Rafale was Rs 526 crore while the price under Modi-led National Democratic Alliance was Rs 1,670 crore per aircraft.
Rahul also questioned the offsets award worth Rs 30,000 crore to Indian industrialist Anil Ambani‘s defence company by the French manufacturer Dassault Aviation in place of the government-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which would have also benefited from a technology transfer clause in the UPA deal.
Later, the Supreme Court of India had ruled that there was no wrong-doing in the pricing of the Rafale jets and had also reprimanded Rahul for targeting Modi with a derogatory political slogan.
When the Congress had done a post-mortem of the 2019 poll defeat, personal attacks against Modi were listed as one of the factors which worked against the opposition party.
The landing of the five Rafale aircraft in the Ambala air base brought joy to Indians, the Congress Party claimed credit for the deal, saying it was the UPA government which had identified the aircraft desperately needed by the IAF.
India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh backed Modi, and replied to the Congress Party and Rahul Gandhi’s allegations in a series of tweets.