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10 March, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 10 March, 2019 12:15:52 AM

Rafale: The new Bofors?

The aggressive posturing would have lasted had it not been for the Rafale issue that was suddenly resurrected
Kumkum Chadha
Rafale: The new Bofors?

Politically, if Pulwama is godsent for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then the Rafale fighter jets have provided enough ammunition for the Opposition, mainly the Congress, to beat the BJP with: except between the two, it is Pulwama and Modi who seem all set to score.

 The Pulwama attack by Pakistan sponsored terrorists’ group, though unfortunate, has given Modi a new lease of political life arresting his downslide given that his government was under attack for empty promises and selling dreams that never materialized.

The BJP was worried about which way the election results would go with clear indications that the 2014 Modi wave was on the decline.

The electorate that had trusted Modi and given him an unbelievable mandate five years ago was, this time around, clearly disappointed. However, the Pulwama attack and more importantly its aftermath helped the BJP: as war always does to any ruling party especially in this part of the sub-continent.

Remember the creation of Bangladesh which brought glory to Indira Gandhi and helped her get a space in the minds of people on both sides as being a leader who did what she set out to?

It was during Indira Gandhi’s Prime Ministership that both the nations went to war as a result of intervention of India in Bangladesh liberation civil war. This military confrontation occurred between India and Pakistan right after fifth general election held in March 1971. Had the elections been held post Bangladesh liberation, both Indira Gandhi and Congress would have reaped electoral benefits.

 Therefore, when it is said that Pakistan ill-timed Pulwama and indirectly gave Modi a new lease of political life, it is not an exaggeration: in fact it is, as many perceive it, a statement of fact. Happening on the eve of the elections in India, the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan united Indians who hailed Modi for his tough stance in launching an offensive against the errant neighbor in reply to Pulwama.

The heightened tensions, a state of near-war between India and Pakistan and finally the latter buckling under pressure and asking for talks demonstrated that India under Modi is speaking a language that Pakistan had neither expected nor heard from this side of the border. He was, to put it simply, seen as a tough leader competent and capable of going beyond warnings and taking on Pakistan through concrete action. That done, Modi emerged a national hero.

Many saw this as Pakistan’s grave miscalculation: “Timing Pulwama on the eve of India’s election was handing victory to Modi on a platter” is what some people said implying that had Pulwama not happened the Indian elections would have focused on domestic issues and failures of the Modi government to fulfil its promises be it on the jobs front or price rise.

This rings true because post-Pulwama and India’s tough posturing, actually silenced the Opposition parties in India. For days on end one heard very little, except a few murmurs demanding proofs of air strikes and so on and so forth.

“The election is won even before it has been fought” was the common refrain at home even as BJP bounced back and readied for what it saw as a one-sided or already won battle.

Riding high, post Pulwama Prime Minister Modi  brought Rafale centerstage saying that India has felt the absence of Rafale fighter jets. He said if previous governments had purchased the Rafale jets the result would have been different. Modi’s observations came in the context  of the aerial combat between India's MiG 21 Bison and Pakistan's f16. This generated criticism about India’s outdated military equipment.

Modi criticised the Congress party for not providing updated weaponry to the armed forces stating that the Rafale deal that started in the UPA era was finalised by the Modi government.  

This however backfired thanks to a newspaper report explaining how no bank guarantee led to expensive rafale deal under the Modi government. The Congress meanwhile,  picked up from where they left. Using the newspaper report to its advantage, Rahul Gandhi tweeted:

“There is now enough evidence to prosecute the PM in the #RafaleScam. The trail of corruption begins & ends with him. That crucial Rafale files incriminating him are now reported ‘stolen’ by the Govt, is destruction of evidence & an obvious coverup.”

The report had cited a “Defence Ministry note” of November 2015, stating that the Ministry “raised strong objections to ‘parallel negotiations’ conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with the French side” in the Rafale deal.

The news reports, published in The Hindu on February 8 and news agency ANI, show file notings and extracts from MoD, indicating that the Indian negotiating team as well as MoD and the law ministry had opposed the purchase of 36 Rafale jets. The report also seem to indicate that the government bypassed the procurement process.

The Centre has threatened action under the Official Secrets Act against the publications claiming their reports on the Rafale fighter deal were based on documents “stolen” from the Ministry of Defence. A probe it said was underway adding that the government will initiate “criminal action” since the matter concerns sensitive Defence purchases and is covered by the Official Secrets Act.

The AG said the matter being one of national security was beyond judicial scrutiny and said the question was whether the court should entertain if a petitioner came to it with unclean hands.

The Court however said that “stolen material can be relied upon provided it’s relevant”.

The government also wanted the newspaper to reveal the their sources. This is against all norms given that every newspaper had a right to protect its sources, a point the publications have made.

 Even while the court will continue its arguments next week on whether  "stolen papers" can be admitted as evidence before the bench there is a face-off between the media and the government with several coming out and decrying  the Central Government’s attempts to ‘threaten’ publications to cover up the charges it was facing or invoking the Official Secrets Act particularly when the issue is in public interest.

With the Opposition and the media targeting the government the knives are out: perhaps guns in this case. If the Rafale chorus becomes louder then it can threaten to drown the post Pulwama hysteria and do to the forthcoming Indian elections what the Bofors scandal did to Rajiv Gandhi’s popularity. It may be recalled that Gandhi had lost the election following the scandal and the ghost continues to haunt the Congress till date. It is therefore not surprising that Rajiv’s son and Congress President Rahul Gandhi had decided to avenge the insult by making Rafale the new Bofors as it were.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: ([email protected])




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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