By Prashant Sood,
New Delhi : The Modi government violated procedures in the Rafale deal with the External Affairs Ministry not in the know before it was announced in 2015, alleges senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal, who wants the government to tell the truth to the people, including the price of the fighter jets.
“You buy 36 Rafales off-the-shelf without informing the foreign ministry. Even the CEO of Dassault did not know 15 days before the announcement. He thought 95 per cent of the deal with HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) had been done, only five per cent was left,” Sibal told IANS in an interview.
He said then Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar was not aware of the deal two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced it in France on April 10, 2015.
In his just-released book, “Shades of Truth–Journey Derailed”, the former Union minister refers to the fighter jet deal continuing to be a mystery. Modi did not take into confidence the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, when on a visit to Paris in April 2015, he announced the purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft off-the-shelf.
On the eve of Modi’s visit to France, at a customary press conference, Jaishankar told the media that HAL was Dassault Aviation’s partner, thereby suggesting that the public sector undertaking was ready to strike the deal.
Modi broke convention by announcing the deal on foreign soil and surprised everyone by snatching it away from HAL. In March 2015, Dassault and HAL had publicly announced that the deal was 90 per cent done. By April 2015, on his visit to France, the deal was undone. “The stepmotherly treatment of a PSU surprised even those in government. Modi preferred a private company to a PSU for reasons that he knows best,” Sibal says in the book.
“Let’s look at the facts. Let’s assume for a moment that all the procedures were followed. On April 8, Foreign Secretary makes a public statement when asked if Rafale is going to be finalised when the PM goes there (to France). He says no… prime ministers don’t talk about these deals. This is not on the table at all. Our leaders are going to talk about different issues. So obviously the foreign ministry had no knowledge. Parrikar says he was told about it three days before,” Sibal said.
“What’s the harm in telling us the price of components? Nobody wants to know the technology of those components. We want to know the price. What is the harm in telling us the price? These are questions that have to be answered. If you don’t answer them, there is an ill of suspicion,” he said.
Asked about government’s assertion that there is no wrongdoing in the deal, he said: “It is like saying that the Birla diaries have certain names but there is no evidence. Unless you investigate how will you get evidence?”
Sibal said the previous deal negotiated by the Congress-led United Progressive Aliance (UPA) government for the purchase of 126 Rafales was cancelled by the present government.
“That deal was cancelled, you need an entirely new procedure. And remember, Eurofigter at that point in time offered 20 per cent discount. None of the procedures were followed. There are detailed guidelines and procedures. There is no price negotiating committee (PNC) for this deal, no contract negotiating committee (CNC),” he said.
Asked about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) contention that the deal had gone through the channels of the PNC and the CNC, Sibal said the procedures BJP leaders were referring to were for the deal negotiated by the UPA government. He said the CNC and the PNC were formed after Modi announced the deal.
There was no CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) before the deal. “How could there be CCS when he said I buy 36 Rafales off-the-shelf. So you can ex-post facto say anything but there are procedures to be followed.”
Asked if the Modi government was rattled by Congress allegations on the Rafale deal, Sibal said the issue was not if it was rattled or not.
“People should know the truth. Why does the government not tell them the truth? What is the harm in telling us the price? After all, it has gone from Rs 520 odd crores to Rs 1,600 crores.”
Asked if Rafale will be party’s poll plank in the forthcoming assembly elections and the next Lok Sabha polls, Sibal said poll planks were already on the ground.
Referring to the petrol and diesel prices reaching record levels, he said the common man was hit hard. “These are the poll planks. Remember what Modi said what I will do in 60 months what Congress did not do in 60 years and he was right. Because Congress never brought the price of petrol to Rs 86 a litre.”
On the rupee falling to record levels against the dollar, Sibal said: “What happened to chappan inch ki chaati and 48 ka rupiah (56 inch chest and Rs 48 against a dollar). It is now almost 72 against a dollar. It is aging faster than anybody else.”
“And see the current account deficit. The price of crude was $28 at one point in time. When it was $145, we were not selling petrol at Rs 86 per litre,” he added.
Asked if the opposition has got its act together now to take on the BJP, Sibal said: “What is the opposition ultimately? It is the people who oppose. Political parties are only vehicles.”
The former Union minister said the electoral battle has to be fought at various levels and the BJP’s performance in 2014 in states such as Uttar Pradesh was due to division of opposition votes.
“Don’t attribute this to some great Modi effect. It is lack of our ability to get together to put up a united front and that is what is going to happen in the Lok Sabha election,” Sibal maintained.
Answering a question about “faultlines” in the UPA government that he mentioned in the book, Sibal noted: “I said we could not manage the perception game. And there was a silent conspiracy at work which we could not gauge. So we were perceived to be weak. I have said all that,” he pointed out.
Asked who were behind the conspiracy, Sibal said the stakeholders in the system had conspired together to create a sense of distrust against the then government.
“There were a lot of stakeholders. BJP was one of them. After all, how did Ramdev come? That Ramlila Maidan, lakhs of people being fed, who brought them, who was spending the money? Then this whole India Against Corruption campaign” he said, adding that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) hand was at play.
He said the Lokpal was at the centre of the campaign and noted that nobody talks about it now. “They were not honest about it. This was not a genuine demand. Obviously, there was some conspiracy at work.”
He said the UPA did not perhaps gauge the gravity of forces of disruption against it. He said Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had been accusing the UPA government of policy paralysis but it gave them a historic growth of 8.2 per cent for 10 years.
(Prashant Sood can be contacted at email@example.com)