After the warning in these columns that the estimated Rs. 63000 crore Rafale fighter jet deal could create a bigger stink than Bofors, Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony ordered a departmental inquiry into the deal. The medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) awarded to the French company Dassault had been selected over its main competitor the Eurofighter Typhoon Jet fighter plane. But after Rafale had won the contract two Defence Ministry officials who were members of the contract negotiation committee raised questions about how the Rafale bid could have been considered the lowest. That compelled the Defence Minister to order the inquiry. The report of the inquiry has yet to be submitted but according to the grapevine the deal might be approved.
Approval of the deal should bring huge relief to Mr. Mukesh Ambani of Reliance. It might be recalled that mid February this year less than two weeks after Dassault won the Rafale bid, Reliance and Dassault signed a partnership pact to make Reliance the Indian private sector collaborator to manufacture Rafale planes in India. Rafale’s victory in the bid was not entirely smooth.
According to experts the competition for winning the bid was vitiated by changing goal posts and ignoring deadlines in order to favour Rafale. The original Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) was converted into Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). Until this change the Gripen, F-16E and an upgraded ageing Dassault’s Mirage 2000 were in the fray. Only after the change could Dassault withdraw Mirage 2000 to replace it with Rafale as the bidder.
According to experts with regard to maneuverability, electronic superiority and operating costs the Rafale during tests was bested by all its competitors. But ignoring procurement costs, operational costs and cycle costs the Gripen and F-16 were eliminated despite proven superiority in electronic and other specialized capabilities. Rafale was at the bottom of each category. Only the Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale were left in the competition. Eventually Rafale got the award. These are the views of some knowledgeable experts. Doubtless there would be other experts holding different views to prove that Rafale was the most deserving bidder. It would be reckless for lay persons to enter arguments between experts.
However, what cannot be ignored even by laymen is the incontrovertible fact that initially Rafale was the first to be eliminated from the competition. But then Dassault stated that it would enhance the performance of all systems of Rafale that did not meet with the requirements. The government thereby allowed Dassault to resubmit a fresh proposal for enhancing its capabilities! That allowed Rafale’s reinstatement and eventual winning of the award. On what basis was this unprecedented favour granted to Rafale?
It might be recalled that attention had already been drawn in these columns to thinly veiled allegations in the British media that Rafale was awarded the contract because of French President Sarkozy’s intervention and the influence exerted by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in favour of Rafale. It might also be recalled that Brazil’s Defence Minister Mr. Nelson Jobim was sacked for almost selecting the Rafale aircraft which was subsequently rejected by Brazilian government. Surely the permission given to Rafale to resubmit its tender after it was eliminated from the competition would heighten suspicions about financial irregularity in India’s deal? Can the fair names and reputation of the Ambanis as well as the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty members afford any such suspicion? Most important, can Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony who has no scandal attached to his name thus far afford a hasty decision?