New Delhi: The deal struck by the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for the purchase of 36 French Rafale fighter jets was cheaper than the one negotiated by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report said Wednesday, but Congress president Rahul Gandhi called it a “cover up" that had concealed costs and the time it would take to deliver the aircraft.
The report, tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, is seen as a shot in the arm for the government just a few weeks before the Election Commission (EC) is to announce the schedule for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It also comes after a clean chit given by the Supreme Court, but Gandhi repeated charges of corruption against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, indicating the opposition will continue to highlight the Rafale deal in the run-up to the general elections due by May.
The CAG audit concluded that the overall deal struck by the government was 2.86% cheaper than the price agreed to by the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. The report didn’t disclose pricing details.
Even as the opposition cried foul over the audit report, the centre claimed it stood vindicated. “Satyameva Jayate—the truth shall prevail. The CAG report on Rafale reaffirms the dictum. It cannot be that the Supreme Court is wrong, the CAG is wrong and only the dynast is right. How does democracy punish those who consistently lied to the nation?" Union minister Arun Jaitley tweeted.
With the Lok Sabha polls around the corner, the opposition is set to step up the heat on the centre despite the green signal to the Rafale deal, claiming that the report will fall flat with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Hours after CAG's Rafale report was tabled, Gandhi noted that it had failed to mention the dissenting note by negotiators, which, he said, has “demolished" the government’s claims on price and delivery schedule.
“The only reason for the new deal is to give ₹30,000 crore to industrialist Anil Ambani. The argument given by the prime minister for the new Rafale deal was price and faster delivery. This has been demolished," Gandhi told the media in New Delhi.
He quoted the leaked dissenting experts note, published in The Hindu on Wednesday, as saying the price that was agreed was 55% above the benchmark.
The Left parties too rejected the CAG report, with Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, saying it “does not cover the issue of offset contracts. Hence there is no mention of Reliance Defence and how the original public sector partner—Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd—was summarily removed by the offset contract."
The CAG report also states that, as compared to the 126-aircraft deal struck by the previous UPA government, India managed to save 17.08% under the India-specific enhancements head in the contract for purchase of 36 flyaway Rafale jets.
“A decision was made in April 2015 to procure 36 Rafale aircraft through a government-to-government contract with the French government. An inter-government agreement (IGA), along with aircraft and weapons package supply protocols, was concluded in September 2016 for procurement of 36 flyaway aircraft... To have a systemic view of the acquisition process, we have examined the complete process of procurement of the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition, starting from the first proposal of the IAF for single-vendor procurement of 126 aircraft in the year 2000 to the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft through IGA in 2016," the CAG report states.
Some analysts said the opposition’s tactics to push Rafale deal as a poll plank is unlikely to work.
“This reaffirms that Modi is clean unlike the previous UPA regime. The audit report now completely lays the matter to rest. Even though Rahul Gandhi has been trying to sell Rafale that is not something that people—the voters—are even concerned about," said A.K. Verma, director of the Centre for Study of Society and Politics in Kanpur.