Modi government appears to have exhausted all its justifications for the botched up Rafale deal and is now relying on its ‘friends’ in the industry to come to its rescue. In an apparent attempt to rebut allegations leveled by the Opposition, Mr. Anil Ambani wrote a second letter to Congress President Rahul Gandhi, stating that "Congress has been misinformed, misdirected and misled by malicious, vested interests and corporate rivals”. The letter unsurprisingly steers clear of any concrete detail and indulges in the same rhetoric as the government which is devoid of any facts. The letter brings out no new information about the deal and completely ignores the pointed questions and allegations leveled by the Opposition. Rather, it comes across as a manifestation of the BJP’s growing desperation to save face and protect its own interests. Here are some of the basic claims made by Mr. Ambani.
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Claim: “The Reliance Group announced its decision to enter the defence manufacturing sector in December 2014 - January 2015, months before the intention for purchase of Rafale aircraft…Reliance Defence has the largest shipyard in the private sector at Pipavav in Gujarat and is currently building five Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels (NOPVs) for the Indian Navy and 14 Fast Patrol Vessels for the Indian Coast Guard”
Fact: Documents from the Ministry prove, the steps as per Defence Procurement Procedure, 2013 were by-passed and the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft was unilaterally announced by the PM. Reliance Defence Ltd. was incorporated a mere 12 days before and Reliance Aerostructure Ltd. was incorporated 14 days after the announcement on 10th April 2015. Reliance’s claims of owning the biggest manufacturing infrastructure is also redundant in this context as R-Infra acquired management control of Pipavav Defence Offshore and Engineering Company Limited (PDOECL) only later in January 2016. Interestingly, Reliance Aerostructure Ltd. was also prematurely given the license to manufacture fighter aircrafts by the Defence Ministry on 22nd February 2016 before it owned any land or building.
Claim: “Dassault chose Reliance Group as its joint venture partner to meet the 'offset' or export obligation component of the deal and this was "an independent agreement between two corporate private sector entities, and Governments had no role to play in this matter…There is no agreement with the Government of India”
Fact: The government is unable to make up its mind on the same as they keep publishing contradictory statements. While the Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, initially denied having any knowledge of Reliance being awarded the offset agreement, official papers as well as statements by Reliance Defence and Dassault Aviation on the same speak a different story. As the offset guidelines specify, a defence offset agreement should necessarily have been processed by the Acquisition Manager and approved by the Defence Minister. How then is Reliance claiming that the agreement was carried out in tandem with the guidelines? Whether Sitharaman is genuinely unaware, as she claims to be, or chose to look the other way while an inexperienced company was awarded the deal, it certainly raises serious questions about the procedure followed by the government and highlights severe discrepancies in one of the biggest defence deals in the country.
The Rafale deal has been riddled with inconsistencies and detractions since the NDA government renegotiated the deal. The government has repeatedly sought cover under the blanket provision of ‘national security’ and manoeuvered any discussion on the same. Their efforts at portraying an illusion of transparency is nothing but another attempt at side-stepping the real issues which has become the hallmark of the BJP. Mr. Modi may use his friends to tell the world that the deal is transparent, but we will continue raising the same pertinent questions until the government decides to answer.