Ever since the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) was signed in September 2016 between the governments of India and France for the supply of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft in fly-away condition, the grand old party of India has made every effort to scandalize and portray it as the biggest ever defence scam. Finding no significant talking issues against the government and party in power during the first four years of governance, an area has been chosen, details of which are traditionally kept as a closely guarded secret not only in India but also elsewhere globally. However, in this vicious campaign, though there has been no dearth of rhetoric but any worthwhile facts or substance has been missing from the beginning. Consequently, though the critics and baiters have created doubts in certain minds but more than the government or party, the malicious campaign has actually damaged the reputation and security interests of the nation.
Initially the allegations of corruption were levied in terms of over-pricing, procedural violations, commercial favourism (cronyism) and technology by the leader(s) of the main opposition party and some staunch opponents and critics of the current Indian prime minister. In tandem with the political rhetoric, several articles and blogs were published in the media and press that perplexed the psyche of the Indian populace for months together but the political war thus waged had plenty of gunpowder but miserably lacked ammunition. The issue was also dragged to the Supreme Court largely through the proxy petitioners but in the judgment delivered by the bench headed by the CJI on 14 December 2018, the Court did not find any reason to doubt the procurement process, any need to probe the pricing of the deal or any evidence of commercial favourism. In a rather harshly worded judgment, the court held that the perceptions of individuals cannot be a basis for fishing and roving inquiry.
This has, however, not dampened the spirit and zeal of the opponents as is evident from the recent developments that carry far more fallacious and disturbing contents perhaps not experienced in the past in the matters of defence. Apropos to a story published by a daily “The Hindu” based on the selective leaks of internal notes on the MOD files by the serving/retired bureaucrats, a spate of fresh articles/blogs have followed casting aspersions and doubts on none other than the incumbent prime minister of India. Such leaks largely represent half-truth, untruth, twisted-facts and disinformation supplying fodder for by the interested media and politicians. Having closely observed published stuff, I can say with conviction that some of the media houses and e-papers/magazines are too eager and enthusiastic to publish any content that goes against the present ruling dispensation even at the cost of nation. This article is an attempt to look into the merits of the fresh barrage and salvo into the Rafale IGA.
A Few General facts and Observations
It’s necessary for any layman to learn a few facts about Defence and Defence Services in India to understand intricacies of the issues involved.
The Government of India had introduced the scheme of Integrated Financial Adviser in its Ministries/Departments in October 1975 and the same was adopted for the Defence Services in August 1983. Consequently, the Financial Adviser (Defence Services) and Finance Division was integrated with the Administrative Ministry with the mandate of functioning as internal and/or associated finance depending upon the subject being under or beyond the financial powers of the Defence Ministry.
All proposals having financial bearing essentially pass through the scrutiny of three key stakeholders at different stages:
- Executive/Administrative authorities in Defence are represented by the hierarchy of the Defence Services and Administrative Ministry. Though there is some duplication and mix up of roles, they together represent the main stakeholders and users responsible and accountable for the programmes and policies implementation.
- Financial Adviser and his officers are expected to play collective and constructive role in planning,
programming, evaluation, implementation and monitoring functions of the Ministry. Arguably, they have greater professional expertise in finance and accounts that shall be utilized to effectively guide and advise the officers of the first category to achieve goals and objectives. The flip side being that these officers also serve as internal auditors and some of them become so indulgent with audit role that they tend to lose the sight of their commonality of objectives with the Executive/Administrative authorities.
- Statutory Auditor is independent of the former two categories and come from the organization of the Comptroller & Auditor General. Unlike the first two categories, the audit has no responsibility for the objectives of the auditee; instead, they evaluate records with reference to rules (including accounting standards), regulations, and laws, and report compliance/violations etc.
DPP & DPM:
The Ministry of Defence has evolved Defence Procurement Procedure and Defence Procurement Manual for the procurement of goods and services under the capital and revenue outlays of the Defence Services. The express need of this arose in 1990s with greater delegation of powers to the Defence Ministry and Defence Services. Based on the need and experience, these procedures have been constantly updated and amplified with the approval of the respective Defence Ministers. Point to be remembered is that DPP and DPM are internal procedures of the MOD and are not as sacrosanct or binding as any law or statute. I am making this point here because DPP and DPM have often been quoted as “Bible” in media articles/blogs to press certain point or argument.
The qualitative requirements of the three Defence Services lay down the need of equipment, its physical and operational details, and maintainability and quality requirements. These are based on the requirements of the users in field as also the physical, operational and technical information from vendors through Requests for Information. In the quest for seeking the best and most effective equipment, the Services often tend to adopt initial QRs as narrow and stringent. Consequently, the vendors are not able to comply on several points that necessitate subsequent relaxation and objected to by the finance and audit. This is certainly a grey and weak area which the Services need to address more professionally.
Inter Government Agreement:
The current Rafale deal was finalized as an IGA and paragraphs 71 & 72 of DPP 2013 specifically cater for such agreements. Let’s see what Para 71 of the aforesaid DPP provides for it:
“There may be occasions when procurements would have to be done from friendly foreign countries which may be necessitated due to geo-strategic advantages that are likely to accrue to our country. Such procurements would not classically follow the Standard Procurement Procedure and the Standard Contract Document but would be based on mutually agreed provisions by the Governments of both the countries. Such procurements will be done based on an Inter Governmental Agreement after clearance from CFA…”
In effect, the above para waives and supersedes the routine procedures and paves way for a procedure mutually agreed between the two transacting governments. The Para 72 of DPP also supports an IGA with the foreign government in the events of large value acquisition, especially when it requires product support over a long period of time with a view to safeguard the interests of the Government of India and assistance of the foreign government in case the contract runs into some unforeseen problem.
Current Controversy and Issues under Examination
Recently, an Indian daily newspaper “The Hindu” with headquartered at Chennai and some other news websites have published stories claiming fresh disclosures on the Rafale deal. These stories are built up around indiscreet disclosures and leaked internal notes of some serving/retired officers from the MOD. Needless to mention, such stuff and opportunity was instantly grabbed by a national party whose leader was seen enthusiastically wavering the copy of a leaked note in the press conference as vindication of his allegation of cronyism in the deal. The major issues in the current controversy and truth behind are examined in the following paragraphs.
Parallel Negotiations by PMO:
In an editorial article, The Hindu charged that the Defence Ministry had raised strong objections to “parallel negotiations” on the Rafale deal conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office with the French side, citing a leaked note in support from an internal file of MOD. It was alleged that such parallel discussions by the PMO had weakened the negotiating position of MOD and Indian Negotiating Team. A facsimile one page copy purportedly written by the dealing Deputy Secretary and endorsed by the Secretary was also published with the latter's remarks, “RM may pl. see. It is desirable that such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously.”
The report published was a half-truth for two reasons: firstly, it turned out that the note was indeed genuine but the facsimile copy of the same was published after tampering as the remarks of the Defence Minister on the same page were found deliberately blocked while publishing it for the consumption of the Indian masses; secondly, the very context of the note was shrewdly kept vague, hence the people initially linked it to the pricing of the deal and the position became clear only after a day when the ex-Defence Secretary, G. Mohan Kumar, clarified the issue in press as under:
(i) “Even members of the negotiating committee will have differences, but they get resolved.”
He further elaborated on his earlier answer -
(ii) “Defence Minister had noted that you (Def Sec) may resolve issue in consultation with Principal Secretary to PM.”
Then on specific inquiry if the issue was resolved, he confirmed it in affirmative.
When the Hindu Editor-in-Chief was queried in-camera as to why he omitted the remarks of the Raksha Mantri, with arrogance visible on his face, he replied it was his prerogative what to publish and what not, and then added that the ex-Raksha Mantri (Manohar Parricker) was sick so why bother him now. Incidentally, the Raksha Mantri had also remarked in the same note that the alleged “note of the Deputy Secretary was an over-reaction” while asking Defence Secretary to resolve it in consultation with Principal Secretary to PM.
Irrespective of what is spread in media about the role of PMO and NSA, what has been stated by the ex-Defence Secretary is the ground reality. It is indeed a fact that any subject file, seeking important decision/approval, pass through multifarious agencies and levels, and differences in opinions and recording it on file(s) is quite common and a routine feature. What ultimately matters is the well-considered and well-documented final decision of the competent authority. Having served in various capacities in senior positions in the government, even I have first hand experience and vouch this fact.
The other important aspect is that Defence Services invariably seek the latest equipment and weaponry in view of the obtaining threat perceptions and security scenario which is quite demanding resource wise. The resource constraints and limitations of rules and procedure driven bureaucracy often pose challenges in achieving their objectives and it necessitates frequent interventions from the political leadership including PMO, irrespective of which political party is in governance.
Therefore, review and monitoring of important cases as also proactive intervention of PMO is not an unusual feature and it has always been there irrespective of which party was in power. Also such an indulgence does not necessarily suggest that the prime minister or his officers are involved in corruption or irregularity in a democracy where the opposition parties and common people expect the prime minister to answer for anything that goes wrong in any part of the country. I recall from own experiences in 1990s in the resource crunch era how almost every defence budget was finalized only after the indulgence of the PMO with a view to bridge gap between the perceptions and assessment of the Defence and Finance ministries.
Sovereign Guarantee and Payment through Escrow Account:
A lot has been spoken and written in the electronic and print media to scandalize the Rafale IGA, particularly after another facsimile copy of an internal note of the then FA(DS) of January 2016 vintage appeared in the public domain. The concerns for the safeguards like a Sovereign Guarantee and/or associating the French government by invoking an Escrow Account or a variant of the same is absolutely in order and, in fact, the Law Ministry had already flagged this issue in their advice. The issue here is how to resolve it if the other foreign government is reluctant to accept it and instead offers other solutions.
Here my question would be about the shared objective and responsibilities of the two crucial stakeholders viz, executives and finance referred to in the beginning in the context of subject procurement. The requirement of the MMRCA was flagged and being actively pursued by the Indian Air Force for almost two decades. Should the Finance leave Air Force high and dry to procure and defend Indian skies or as responsible stakeholders share responsibility to resolve issues with open mind.
If the Finance finds umpteen paras in DPP 2013 to refute or complicate the procurement process, why it can’t invoke paragraphs 71 & 72 of the same DPP to assist the Service (IAF) and political leadership to take a fair decision in resolving such issues. After all it will be a collective responsibility and decision if the Finance open mindedly interprets the specific paras in DPP concerning IGA and consider the offer of the "Letter of Comfort" and payment to the vendor in the government controlled bank rather than simply flagging the issues of the Sovereign Guarantee and Escrow before the political leadership and then putting them under trial when they take a decision.
The very concept of escalating such issues on the premise as if the agreement would indeed be breached by the vendor or foreign government is flawed. Let’s see the comments and view taken by the CAG in their Performance Audit Report No. 3 of 2019 in the context of the Ministry of Law and Justice advice of seeking Government/Sovereign guarantee. Complete report is available in public domain for anyone to see; I have quoted here only some more relevant part of it.
“… the Government of France and Vendor neither agreed to furnish the Bank guarantees nor Government/Sovereign guarantee. Instead it provided a ‘Letter of Comfort’ signed by the French Prime Minister in lieu of the Bank Guarantee. The issue on sovereign guarantee and letter of comfort was finally submitted to the CCS in September 2016 for consideration which approved the acceptance of Letter of Comfort from French Prime Minister along with other associated guarantees/assurances provided in the IGA in lieu of Bank Guarantee subject to payments through an escrow account or any other safeguards which the Ministry was to work out in consultation with the French Government with the assurance by the French Government that they shall provide effective oversight on the utilization of payments released to the French Industrial suppliers”.
“The French government did not agree to an escrow account as it felt that the guarantees already provided by the Government of France were far reaching and unprecedented. The finally approved Article 5 of IGA by the DAC, provided that the advance payments were to be made directly to the Bank accounts of French vendor that were opened in French Government controlled Bank, over which the French Party was to exercise control and monitoring for effective implementation of the IGA and the supply protocols.”
As per provision, any breach of agreement would be first referred to Arbitration. If the Arbitration award is in favor of Indian party and the French vendor fails to honour the award (i.e. make the payment’s claim), the French Government would make these payments on behalf of the vendors. It is significant that the statutory auditor has neither assigned any fault nor contested the MOD’s position that the responsibility of the French Government and M/s DA was made “Joint and Several” in the IGA that would make the French Government equally responsible to fulfill its obligations.
Now let’s see if the letter of comfort received under the signature of French Prime Minister carries any significance because somewhere I have also seen a media observation that the letter of comfort offers "little comfort". For the layman to understand the basic attribute and difference between the sovereign guarantee and letter of comfort as also the purpose of escrow account, the same is briefly enumerated here:
- ‘Sovereign Guarantee’ is a promise by one government to another government to discharge the liability if the primary obligor (third party) defaults in its obligations. It carries legal binding.
- ‘Letter of Comfort’ in the context of the country to country is basically a promise, guarantee or “given words of trust” to carry out an obligation. It is more of a moral binding but way more powerful than any other guarantee bound with faith for any future deal or treaty.
- ‘Escrow’ ordinarily refers to money held by a third party on behalf of the transacting parties. The escrow agent has the duty to properly account for the escrow funds and ensure that funds are explicitly used for the purpose intended as a safeguard for the buyer and seller.
According to experts, a letter of comfort is morally binding but not legally enforceable. However, the global experience suggests that while dozens of guarantees have been challenged and fought in international courts in the past, there is not even one known instance of the trust of a government broken on account of the “letter of comfort”. France has a long history of defence cooperation with India based on mutual trust and consideration, and also the only powerful Western nation which didn’t join the Western Bloc led by US and UK in imposing long term technology sanctions after Pokhran nuclear tests in 1998.
Also the issue of "Sovereign Guarantee" is not new and it was debated in the Supreme Court too during the hearing in the recent past wherein the Government lawyer had explained that there was no such guarantee in the IGA; instead, France had given a "Letter of Comfort" assuring that the obligation will eventually be met by them.
On different occasions, the MOD has also confirmed that such sovereign guarantees do not exist in the past agreements/pacts with the countries like Russia and United States. The position thus formally clarified by the government is indeed correct. To counter the MOD position, the media reports have defended and justified non-inclusion of necessary safeguards in the Indo-Russian deals on the logic that Russian contracts involved an intermediary state agency "Rosoboronexport" and not a private vendor.
I am not keen to delve into the anatomical details impinging on the national security but constrained to cite just one illustration in the context of the aforesaid hollow and pyrrhic argument. India had signed a contract with Russia for supply of the second-hand Aircraft Carrier Admiral Gorshkov (rechristened as INS Vikramaditya) at the firm and fixed cost of US$ 0.8 billion in January 2004 with targeted delivery in August 2008. By November 2008, India had already made advance payments of US$ 400 million when Russia demanded an ad hoc additional US$ 2 billion quoting unexpected cost overruns, failing which she even threatened to scrap the deal. India was in a fix and forced to finally agree to pay the total cost of US$ 2.35 billion and ship could finally be inducted in the Indian Navy in June 2014 after unprecedented cost and time overrun because the flagship carrier was an indispensible need for the defence of country.
Does the above episode ring any bells in the psyche of people making forceful defence for the "state intermediary" in the context of safeguards? I think this one case is suffice to show mirror to such media and their fodder-suppliers who argue that stringent safeguards are necessary only for the private company and state companies do not require such protocol. When you have compelling need but no indigenous capability, you have to deal with suppliers, state or privately owned, on case to case basis and make amends or even some compromises, if necessary.
As can also be verified from the relevant audit report of the CAG, apart from the stated “Letter of Comfort”, the agreement provides that the payments shall be made to the Bank account(s) of the French vendor opened in the French Government controlled Bank, over which the French government will exercise control and monitoring for effective implementation of the IGA and the supply protocols.
Contract Negotiating Team and Benchmark Cost:
The real spilling of beans occurred when the confidential details and lopsided versions of the internal discussions of the CNC and benchmark costing were leaked in the media. This provided plenty fodder to the politicians of a national party and critics started allegations on the incumbent prime minister and his office of enhancing the 'Benchmark Price' for Rafale deal by Euro 3 Billion. These issues basically centered around two following narratives.
(a) That the CNC was divided in their approach and opinion, and the so-called lightweights prevailed over the minority view comprising of domain experts. In fact, members have been called by to narrate their expertise, role and justification in the CNC. In a painstaking and skillful manner, the media reports/blogs have tried to establish that ones who had no core competence actually suppressed the voice of the real professionals and domain experts by 4:3 votes.
(b) That the benchmarking of prices/cost of the components and overall deal was decided in a manner that raised several contentious issues. According to this narrative, only the Adviser (cost) had necessary wherewithal and core competence to do this job assisted by the Finance Manager. Together they had worked out the benchmark price of Euro 5.2 billion endorsed by the JS & Acquisition Manager but the majority comprising of the Chairman (DCAS), Member Secretary (ACAS), JS (Offset) and Addl FA & JS didn’t agree and instead suggested Euro 8.2 billion based on an “Aligned Cost Table”. Therefore, this was against the erudite and scholastic spirit of the collegiate working where responsibility and authority is shared equally by colleagues.
Other than the insiders of the MOD, the CAG is the only entity which would have complete information and access to relevant files and records. So, let’s first see what CAG has observed on these issues in their recent performance audit report dated 11 February 2019 presented in the Indian Parliament. We shall see the rationale of an “Aligned Cost Table” based on the 2007-RFP’s “non-deal” to arrive at the benchmark price by the alleged majority vote in CNC.
In the ‘Introduction’ of the audit report, the CAG has quoted the Indo-French Joint Statement dated 10 April 2015 made in Paris by the Prime Minister of India and the President of French Republic to conclude an IGA for the supply of 36 Rafale Aircraft in fly-away condition that shall be concluded on terms better than earlier conveyed by M/s Dassault Aviation in the stated non-deal. The CAG has interpreted “better terms” in relation to price, delivery and maintenance. Significantly, the Statutory Auditor observed that the earlier deal-in-process with M/s Dassault Aviation had failed not on account of prices/cost but on the twin issues of manpower costs and non-guarantee for the aircrafts to be manufactured by M/s HAL and even the CAG has relied on benchmarking based on prices obtained in the said non-deal.
The CAG has prepared their audit report in two parts namely "Part A 126 MMRCA Acquisition Process" and "Part B Acquisition of 36 Rafale Aircraft through IGA". The Statutory Auditor has criticized the benchmarking prices in Part A quite obviously prepared by the said domain experts and they have also devoted a separate para on “Unrealistic Price Benchmarking by INT” in Part B the contents of which are verbatim reproduced here:
“Before commencing negotiations, the Indian Negotiating Team estimated the benchmark price on a Firm & Fixed cost basis keeping in view of the expected discounts, market study, Rafale sale price from annual reports of M/s DA etc., as “R” million €. This was about 57 per cent lower than the initial offer of the French Team and 46 percent lower than the non-firm & fixed offer of “T” million € . Audit noted that as the INT was already aware of both the previous unrealistic benchmark pricing as well the commercial offer, they could have estimated the benchmark price more realistically. Audit also noted that in the process of procuring the MMRCA, this was the second time (first time in November 2011) that an unrealistically low benchmark prices were fixed.”
In the next paragraph, the Statutory Auditor has explained the methodology for price comparison based on the “Aligned Cost Table” as worked out by the INT (based on the media reports’ alleged 4:3 vote). Audit has also accepted and used the same methodology while verifying the cost comparison made by the INT which also vindicates the approach and opinion of the majority members allegedly portrayed as lightweights:
“The INT aligned the quantities in the 2015 bid with that in 2007 bid and then the price of 2007 was brought to 2015 price level by applying the price escalation formula which used the Industrial cost indices published by the French National Institute of Statistics & economic Studies (INSEE). This was aligned price i.e. the price of 36 flyaway aircraft in 2015 if the prices were the same as the bid of 2007.”
The CAG has thus explicitly and effectively explained the rationale and methodology of the so aligned cost and it’s finding effectively bursts the bubble of the proclaimed sacrosanct benchmark cost (Euro 5.2 billion) by the said domain experts as also the roving disinformation and scandalous allegation of Euro 3 billion enhancements in the benchmark price by the prime minister.
This leaves only the issue of the professional attributes of the lightweights and domain experts in the CNC to be addressed and the following points merit consideration in this context:
- While many provisions of the DPP, citing it as Bible of defence procurement, has been invoked by the critics to escalate skepticism and public opinion against the agreement, how come they ignored the provisions stipulated under paragraphs 71 and 72 of the same DPP that specifically provides guidance to deal with the Inter Government Agreement inter alia stating that such procurements would not follow the routine Standard Procurement Procedure and would be based on mutually agreed provisions by the Governments of both the countries.
- Aspersion has been casted on the experience and competence of the Chairman of the INT/CNC (DCAS) and Member Secretary (ACAS) which perhaps may go well with the people unaware of the structure and functioning of the MOD and Defence Services. But facts are contrary to this position because the Chairman and Member Secretary are in fact the most responsible, crucial and well-informed members who actually anchor and steer the negotiations at all occasions. For illustration, even the Supreme Court had recently called only very senior Air Force officers for briefing on Rafale and they indeed did their job meticulously to the satisfaction of the apex court on all issues. Hence raising questions on senior executives’ knowledge on the subject and professional expertise is absurd and preposterous.
- It is atrocious to suggest, or even surmise, that an Addl FA & JS in MOD is a lightweight (means he knows little or no finance!) in a sector where there is a lot of overlapping under the huge Capital and Revenue resources and traditionally a large number of high value stores and equipment of capital nature are procured and accounted under the Revenue budget. For instance, entire high value supplies from 41 Indian Ordnance Factories, Airframes & Aero engines and repair & refits of ships fall in this category.
- The negotiating team has a diverse composition and some of them supposedly have some domain expertise. However, the negotiating team is collectively responsible and every member is expected to contribute without any domain limitation or inhibition. Besides, necessary inputs are available to all members and most situations demand the application of normal human logic and rationale. Therefore, to divide or compartmentalize members or undermine their knowledge and wisdom is erroneous and unethical.
- Approach and perceptions of different members may vary and so be their opinion during the internal deliberations but the recommendations reflect the collective outcome and decision the team. In case, however, any member(s) has irreconcilable differences on certain issues, he has the option of recording his dissenting note which is then considered at variance with the collective recommendation.
- Denying the more realistic L1 prices obtained in the last competitive bidding for fixing realistic benchmark prices and instead relying on the old inconsistent data taking refuse to Para 52 of DPP only shows unprofessional and rigid bent of mind of the so-called domain experts, if they indeed did so as reported. Even the CAG has criticized this flawed approach. Like I said earlier, the DPP is no Bible as argued by some people. The DPP comprised of merely 5-6 pages when first evolved as a government letter in early 1990s. Ever since, it has undergone constant revision and changes depending on the needs and experience with the approval of Defence Minister. DPP 2013 had 351 pages and another 79 pages have been added in just two years and DPP 2016 has 430 pages now. Point that I want to make here is the DPP provisions are subject to constant addition, deletion and modification with the approval of the competent authority in MOD.
- As pointed out by the CAG, the initial benchmark cost of 57 percent lower on firm and fixed cost basis and 46 percent on non-firm and fixed basis was faulty and unrealistic. The Statutory Auditor has also observed this as a second-time failure in fixing low benchmarks and has relied on the ‘Aligned Cost Table’. It is indeed a poor reflection on basic understanding and knowledge of said domain experts.
- Last but not the least, media reports/blogs have assigned domain expertise by sheer virtue of people being in a role or belonging to a service. Theoretically, the argument may appear convincing but ground realities are often at variance. There are many instances in government when the so-called domain experts were either shown the door or they simply opted out unable to cope with the professional needs and job challenges. The malady of the Indian bureaucratic system is such the same person(s) return in similar role in still higher positions with no stigma attached for their past failures. In such ecological environment, it is always wise to go by the collective or majority wisdom rather than relying on the individual(s) in the name of domain expertise. Even the judiciary follows this principle across the globe.
Rafale: A Fighter Aircraft Par Excellence
Notwithstanding these deliberately created controversies by vested interests, Rafale is an excellent fighter aircraft of fourth generation plus category with a distinct edge in performance over the other contemporary aircrafts. This is vindicated from the experiences gathered from its operation deployment globally and data/reports available in public domain on the comparative technical parameters of various aircrafts in the Western world. In this context, a technical report of the Swiss government of 2009 vintage available in public domain is relevant. The evaluation of 4 contemporary fighter aircrafts was carried out by a duly constituted Technical Committee taking Boeing F-18 as the base aircraft. The findings of the report on certain critical parameters on the scale of 1-10 are reproduced below:
|Defensive Counter Air
|Offensive Counter Air
|Air to Ground Strike
Data in the given table are self-explanatory. While recommending Rafale for the Swiss Air Force, the report of the technical committee observed that based on the flight test results and upgrade, scheduled for the delivered configuration, the Rafale aircraft can accomplish with the best effectiveness all Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground missions and has a potential to be operationally effective for the next fourty years. The same committee had adjudged the Eurofighter as the next choice.
The same two aircrafts were found suitable by the Indian Air Force in their independent technical evaluation where Rafale emerged as final choice on cost and technical parameters. It was a long felt need that has taken almost twenty years to materialize. The Air Force was projecting the need of 126 MMRCA since mid-1990s, and serious consideration with the acceptance of necessity started in 2000-01 during the Prime Minister Bajpai’s regime. The Rafale IGA for limited 36 numbers has taken twenty years to materialize. It is high time that the politicians, media and intellectuals spare it now and look for other areas to hog limelight and settle mutual scores.
While barrage and salvos have continued unabated for more than a year now, an IGA is still a preferred route for its transparency and implementation with minimum hassles. It is quite obvious and logical that when two sovereign governments enter into an agreement, issues like integrity pact and certain guarantees provided in the conventional contract largely lose its relevance vis-a-vis mutual trust. Therefore, the letter of comfort given by France and payments through the government controlled bank appears a reasonably fair arrangement. Procurement following the classical Defence Procurement Procedure continues to remain cumbersome and numerous crucial deals either get delayed or stuck up. Our imaginative media barons have cited many DPP provisions to malign the IGA and mislead public opinion but have not pointed out the specific provision that makes mandatory the so hyped sovereign guarantee. Those who so often quote "Bible" should also take some lessons from 'Gita" which provides better insight on the person's Dharma (Righteousness) and Karma (Actions).
I wonder what was the objective of the recent leaks and exposures about the Rafale deal as also the motive of people involved when the issues raised in the past viz. processing, pricing, cronyism and technology had already been examined and decided none other than the highest judiciary in India. If the objective was to unravel any corruption in the deal, the same is clearly not achieved. However, if the intent of the people was to malign the image of the ruling leadership, create suspicion in the minds of common people and hog limelight for self, to some extent it has been achieved. As such there is a phrase - a lie repeated a thousand times becomes truth; and, I feel little shocked in this regard with the audacity and tenacity of a section of media, politicians and some others supplying fodder to them under the cover of fashionable jargons like the freedom of expression and transparency.
The Hindu story has concluded with “what seems guaranteed is that we have not heard the last of l’affaire Rafale. Ironically, the term used here is also a French construction to denote a scandal ordinarily associated with the specified person or organization. Here the media, a political party and some people are on a mission to scandalize a person who was chief minister of a state for almost fifteen years and is completing now five years as a popular prime minister of the largest democracy of the world, yet he has neither ever indulged in nepotism nor is known for accumulation of personal wealth unlike many other Indian political leaders and their families. There is a popular Bollywood song “Choron ko saare nazar aate hain chor” (Thieves perceive everyone as a thief) that fits so well in the context of the rhetotic created by a section of media and politicians now. Even more unfortunate and deplorable is the fact that unscrupulous act of some people with vested interests to politically discredit a man is actually impinging upon the national security and threat perceptions which are indeed real.
Acronyms: IFA = Integrated Financial Adviser; DPP = Defence Procurement Procedure; DPM = Defence Procurement Manual; MMRCA = Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft; GSQR = General Staff Qualitative Requirements; ASQR = Air Staff Qualitative Requirements; NSQR = Naval Staff Qualitative Requirements; QRs = Qualitative Requirements; INT = Indian Negotiating Team; CNC = Contract Negotiating Committee; CAG = Comptroller and Auditor General; FA(DS) = Financial Adviser (Defence Services); Addl FA = Additional Financial Adviser; IAF = Indian Air Force; DCAS = Deputy Chief of Air Staff; ACAS = Assistant Chief of Air Staff; JS = Joint Secretary; IGA = Inter Governmental Agreement; MOD = Ministry of Defence; MOF = Ministry of Finance; PMO = Prime Minister's Office; NSA = National Security Adviser; CJI = Chief Justice of India; INS = Indian Naval Ship; L1 = Lowest.