Rafale is No Bofors
Rafale is no ‘Bofors’ !
The roar of the Rafale fighter jet is loud and clear. From the stables of Dassault Aviation, a French aerospace major, the Rafale combat aircraft is known for its ‘omnirole’ capabilities and has shown its prowess in combat-ridden Libya, Syria, Mali and Iraq. India had rightly picked the fighter aircraft as part of the ‘Mother of all Deals’ – the medium multi-role aircraft (MMRCA) programme of the Indian Air Force to buy 126 jets. The deal was signed but it did not come through as the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government of the day ‘dithered’ along.
And in the summer of 2015 while visiting France, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi brushed aside the ‘protracted deal’ and ordered 36 Rafale jets, in fly-away conditions. The Prime Minister’s decision was hailed as ‘bold’ and ‘timely’ as the IAF has been flying the Russian MiGs which sadly have been called ‘flying coffins’.
Three years down the line, there is talk of a scam in the Rafale deal. These allegations are getting pronounced now with impending 2019 General Elections. The Congress (I) party, which was in the thick of the Bofors scam wherein there were trails of money having changed hands, is the principal leveller of this allegation. The contention is that the present NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government is paying a huge price for the Rafale jets whereas other countries such as Qatar and Egypt have got a sweeter deal.
In 2015, Qatar agreed to buy 24 Rafale jets at a cost of 6.3 billion Euros and subsequently exercised an option for 12 more fighters at an additional cost of 1.1 billion Euros (total 7.4 billion for 36 Rafale). In the same year Egypt too ordered 24 Rafale jets at a cost of 5.2 billion Euros. In 2016, India reportedly inked a deal for 36 Rajale aircraft at a cost of 7.5 billion Euros. The price reportedly does not factor in the weapons payload that each country would have ordered. The weapons and other systems come from different vendors, giving room for price variation. However, there was deliberate misleading on the price by the Congress (I) President, Rahul Gandhi. It is perfectly understandable that the opposition has to rake up controversies to keep themselves relevant, but in the absence of any proof or even prima facie evidence that someone has benefited from the deal, such accusations fall flat. Rafale is certainly not Bofors, unless of course the Congress (I) has got evidence of money-trail.
Be that as may, what the IAF needs are fighter jets to shore up the depleting squadron levels which now stands at 34 (31 combat), although the ideal strength is said to be 42. The IAF is in urgent need of more jets and such accusations at the most hinder acquisitions and the record of the then UPA Minister of Defence not inking deals, should make the Congress (I) introspect on whether playing politics with national security is the right approach.