The controversial Rafale deal has become an albatross around the Modi government’s neck. It sums up all that is wrong with the government.
First, there is a “strong” leader, Narendra Modi, and his contempt for all procedural checks and balances of a democracy, which he impatiently waives aside. Second, in a parliamentary democracy, once you’ve short-circuited the process and chosen an offsets partner, who has a proven record of failure, then corruption allegations will come knocking on your door.
For the first time-ever, Modi is facing allegations of alleged personal corruption and because he had waived aside all due process in the Rafale deal. He is now the target of a determined Opposition. Trouble is all the blogs written by the indisposed Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister, heaping wrath on “compulsive contrarians” and “urban Naxals”, both terms which have no meaning, is not staunching the loss of personal political capital, which Modi is bleeding in the Rafale dogfight.
The latest revelations by internationally respected editor N. Ram of The Hindu claims that the Rafale deal that Modi personally negotiated was 41.4 per cent more expensive per plane than the one that was being negotiated by the UPA government. This has blown a jet-sized hole through Modi’s claims.
Interestingly, after the offsets partner filed defamation cases of up to Rupees 10,000 crores (Dh100 billion) against online news outlets, the entire mainstream media was silent, but after The Hindu revelations the omerta appears broken, with dailies splashing it on page one.
Worse for Modi, the mothership of the Sangh - the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - has maintained a studied silence on the issue and not even offered a token defence of Modi.
41.4%greater cost per plane as per Modi's deal as opposed to UPA's deal
To distance himself from the scandal, which is firmly lodged at the doors of the Prime Minister’s Office in South Block, Modi has fielded several Cabinet ministers, but it seems time is up for the mute Modi approach as his position is becoming untenable.
The controversial Rafale deal has led to surreal and unbelievable acts such as the post-midnight coup on the CBI which led to its director Alok Verma’s ouster. This was a first in the history of independent India. Modi then ensured that Verma, reinstated by the Supreme Court, was in office for just one day. All this to prevent a preliminary inquiry in to the Rafale deal.
In what it called a “typographical error”, the government cited a non-existent Comptroller and Auditor General report to the Supreme Court. This was an epic own goal and made the Opposition demand for a parliamentary probe stronger as the optics looked dodgy.
Earlier, Congress president Rahul Gandhi ploughed a lonely furrow on what he called the Rafale scam. The Opposition now has closed ranks and is making it a political issue.
Public perception is what matters in Indian politics and the perception now firmly is that the Modi government has something to hide. So how will this affect the BJP’s campaign?
In any case, public perception is what matters in Indian politics and the perception now firmly is that the Modi government has something to hide. So how will this affect the BJP’s campaign?
Modi had won 2014 as an incorruptible crusader against corruption and highlighted UPA scams. Modi promised to retrieve black money and jail Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, who he derisively termed “damaadji”, a short-hand lapped up by voters.
Modi’s term has seen the total collapse of the 2G case in court and no back money has come back. In fact, alleged scam artists such as Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Vijay Mallaya who have defrauded Indian banks to the tune of thousands of crores have escaped India. Vadra is roaming free. So much like “acche din” (good days), the anti-corruption crusade also seems like a “jumla”, a memorable term used by Amit Shah to describe election promises.
N. Ram, who had covered and unearthed the Bofors scam, writes that Rafale has eerie similarities to it. Clearly, in democracy a strong leader running roughshod over process is problematic. Ram also writes that there is no money trail in Rafale. Yet. Watch this space.