Narendra Modi (L) and Rahul Gandhi (R). Image Credit: PTI

Dubai: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi prides himself on his communication skills — he is reckoned to be a great orator.

Yet Modi has maintained a deafening silence nearly 48 hours after former French president Francois Hollande pulled the pin out of the grenade that is the Rafale deal. 

Hollande said and has since reiterated that Anil Ambani as an offset partner in the billion dollar Rafale deal was “imposed” upon the French by the Indian government.

This blows up the repeated claim of the Modi Government, repeated by top ministers who are in the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) — such as Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, a political lightweight deployed by the government, who has said on several occasions that “the government had nothing to do with the offset partnerships which was decided by the fighter manufacturer - Dassault”.

Sitharaman went to the extent of saying that the Indian government was unaware as to which company Dassault had chosen to partner.

Incredible claim to make considering that her cabinet colleague Nitin Gadkari had inaugurated the Ambani factory in Nagpur.

But then incredible claims and “jumlas” are par for the course of the Modi government.

Just last week, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had claimed that billionaire defaulter Vijay Mallya, who said he had met Jaitley before he fled, was “factually incorrect” since he never gave him an appointment.

So the meeting happened, Mallya fled and yet the finance minister was content with a thin legal fig leaf.

Crux of scandal

The crux of the scandal is the purchase of the billion dollar jets ordered by Modi without any of the mandated clearances and while he was accompanied by Ambani who had registered a defence manufacturing company barely days before.

Modi announced the deal in Paris and even the then-defence minister Manohar Parrikar was taken by surprise.

The Indian government asked Dassault, one of the biggest defence companies in the world, to join hands with a new born company with untested credentials, leaving behind till then preferred partner Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

And Dassault did that without questions. 

To the credit of the often whimsical president of the Congress Party Rahul Gandhi, he has been consistent in his claim that the offsets award in the Rafale deal was a scam.

The Modi government has been trying to deny and fend off the accusations of a scam without a cogent defence. 

Sitharaman first claimed she would disclose the price of the jets and then reneged, talking about a mystery “secrecy clause”. 

Meanwhile, the Modi government’s cheerleaders and panna pramukhs in the media, without investigation, gave the Modi Government a clean chit, going to the extent of saying that there was “no corruption but stupidity in the deal”.

Bombshell

Despite the compromised sections of the Indian media, the scam blew up in the Modi government’s face.

Modi is doing himself no favours with his telling silence.

Anil Ambani has been filing defamation cases against opposition leaders and those in the media questioning the deal awarded to a company, which has no prior experience in defence.

Ambani has sued for damages up to Rupees 5000 crores. Ambani has also served “cease and desist” notices to virtually the entire free press.

So what next in the unravelling Rafale scam? Consider that the government has already rubbished the claims of the government-owned HAL with an established track record in high-end defence manufacturing to deal with the offsets.

Smacks of desperation, says a senior opposition leader who has held the defence portfolio.

The most significant impact will be the loss of Modi’s claim that he is a “chowkidar” (guard) of tax payers’ money.

Modi took the decision on Rafale on his own in a way typical of his authoritarian style of functioning and the damage to his reputation is also personal. 

Top opposition leaders say the Rafale deal will be the main issue for them in the upcoming general elections indicated by Gandhi’s accusatory press conference today where he said: “Modi and Anil Ambani jointly carried out a one hundred and thirty thousand crore surgical strike on the Indian defence forces.

“Modiji you dishonoured the blood of of our martyred soldiers. Shame on you. You betrayed India’s soul.”

This is an indication of how the opposition will carry out the indictment of Modi. 

Expect a follow up of the Hollande story in French media shortly. And, in the return of old ghosts such as Bofors, a defence deal may prove to be end game of another prime minister.

Swati Chaturvedi’s book “I am a Troll - Inside the BJP’s secret digital army” has received international acclaim. Her twitter handle is @Bainjal.