By : Shashank Suresh
As the debate over the Rafale purchase heats up, it’s critical to know the background and sequence of events. Dassault Aviation developed and produced the Rafale, a French twin-engine multi-role fighter aircraft. The Rafale fighter planes are widely regarded as one of the world’s most capable combat aircraft.
After the Defence Ministry, then led by Congress politician A.K. Antony, authorized the request from the Indian Air Force, India began the process of purchasing a fleet of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) in 2007.
Lockheed Martin’s F-16s, Eurofighter Typhoon, Russia’s MiG-35, Sweden’s Gripen, Boeing’s F/A-18s, and Dassault Aviation’s Rafale were among the competitors for the multibillion-dollar contract.
Bids were launched in December 2012 after a lengthy process, and Dassault Aviation was chosen as L-1 (lowest bidder). The initial proposal called for 18 planes to be built in France and 108 planes to be built in India in conjunction with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. The last discussions lasted until early 2014, but the agreement could not be reached.
The price per Rafale that was negotiated was not publicly published, although the then-UPA administration indicated that the purchase would be worth USD 10.2 billion. The Congress stated that the cost per aircraft, including avionics and armaments, was Rs 526 crore.
After meetings between Modi and then-French President François Hollande on April 10, 2015, the two leaders decided to sign an Inter-Governmental Agreement for the supply of 36 Rafale planes on conditions that were better than those offered by Dassault Aviation as part of a separate procedure.
India and France inked an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) in September 2016 for 36 Rafale multi-role fighter aircraft in fly-away condition for €7.87 billion. Dassault was chosen over Russia’s MiG as India’s traditional partner. Dassault Aviation and its partners will carry out a 50 percent offset clause in collaboration with Indian industries. The aircraft’s base price is around Rs. 680 crores.
Congress has accused the administration of significant irregularities in the transaction, saying that each aircraft was purchased for over Rs 1,670 crore instead of the Rs 526 crore finalized by the UPA government. They also demanded explanations from the government as to why HAL, the state-owned aerospace company, was not included in the agreement.
Congress also wants to know the cost of the planes and how the price per plane has risen from Rs 526 crore to Rs 1,670 crore. The government has declined to reveal the specifics, citing a confidentiality clause in an India-France agreement signed in 2008.
Qatar acquired 12 Rafale fighter jets for USD 108.33 million each (Rs 694.80 crore) in November 2017, according to Congress. The Congress has also claimed that the agreement benefits Reliance Defence Ltd (RDL), which has formed a joint venture with Dassault Aviation to carry out the offset obligation for the Rs 59,000 crore contract. Reliance Defence, according to the party, was founded barely 12 days before the prime minister announced the Rafale contract on April 10, 2015. All of the accusations have been dismissed by the RDL.
In what the French investigative website Mediapart described as a 7.8-billion-euro agreement between Dassault Aviation, the maker of the Rafale fighter plane, and the Indian government, a court inquiry into suspected corruption was initially started on June 14 in France. The court investigation in France was initiated in response to claims in Mediapart by French journalist Yann Philippin, who stated that despite Dassault Aviation spending 94% of the total value in the Reliance-Dassault joint venture, Reliance was awarded 51% of the shares.
According to the allegation, Sushen Gupta, one of the detained suspects in the Augusta-Westland VVIP helicopter scandal, had access to sensitive defense ministry papers, as a result of which Dassault Aviation understood the specifics of what the Indian side wanted long before it was formally informed.
In France, judicial investigations are generally reserved for extraordinary circumstances. In certain instances, the investigating judge has unique powers that do not need him or her to seek clearance from other authorities beforehand. Only if the evidence is discovered during the judicial investigation will the matter proceed to trial.
Impact on Indian politics
The judicial investigation will have an impact on Indian politics in the near future. Congress has called the discovery “a disgraceful revelation of the Rafale fraud” that has reportedly resulted in a “loss to the national exchequer,” and has requested a probe by the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The ruling BJP, on the other hand, characterized the court investigation into the Rafale agreement in France as the result of an NGO complaint that cannot be considered a case of corruption.