From Modi Government, a Boilerplate Response on Rafale Charges

Arun Jaitley, Nirmala Sitharaman don't debate specific charges levelled by Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, only decry attempt to "malign the government".

New Delhi: Soon after lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan and former Bharatiya Janata Party ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha launched a scathing attack on the Union government for hiding facts around the controversial Rafale deal at a press conference on Wednesday (August 8), the BJP left it to finance minister Arun Jaitley, who is currently recuperating from a renal failure, and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman to put up a defence.

Jaitley could not do what the other ministers had not yet done. Neither did he present any facts that could counter the allegations of cronyism, overpricing and procedural violations made by Bhushan, Sinha and Shourie, nor did he justify the delay in procuring the 36 fighter planes, which the government had claimed were bought in urgency.

Instead, like his colleagues in the Union cabinet, he relied on rhetoric to salvage the situation.

“I have seen today another attempt at maligning the Government by spreading falsehood and paddling fabricated facts regarding the 2016 Inter-Governmental Agreement for the procurement of Rafale fighter aircraft.  It is even more reprehensible that this fresh attempt to tarnish the image of the Government should come less than two weeks after the miserable failure of a similar effort in the Parliament,” Jaitley wrote in his blog.

He added, “There is not a grain of truth in the wild allegations repeated today nor anything substantiating in the purported facts and voluminous documents marshalled to corroborate the baseless accusations.”

He went on to repeat the same point, “The unsubstantiated allegations against the Government constitute nothing but reprocessed lies by forces increasingly desperate to prove their relevance.  The Government had already responded effectively to each and every distortion and misinformation on the issue.”

The Union defence minister, too, put out two tweets in response to the allegations levelled. Her response did not contain any facts either.

So what has been the government’s response until now? Whenever the government has chosen to respond to the allegations, it has not presented a factual rejoinder. One, the defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had only termed the allegations “rubbish” multiple times and called the Congress, which has been raising the controversial details of the deal aggressively in the last few months, as “shameless”. Two, she told parliament that the price of the jets cannot be revealed because of a secrecy clause, which was included for security reasons in the agreement.

However, this is precisely what the Congress and others leaders refute. They have cited documents which say that there was no such clause. Following an uproar in the parliament when Rahul Gandhi claimed that the French president Emmanuel Macron had himself told him that it was up to the Indian government to reveal the price of the fighter planes, the Congress showed an India Today interview where Macron reiterates the same.

On Wednesday, Sinha, Shourie and Bhushan cited the Union government’s own response in the Lok Sabha on November 18, 2016, in which it had revealed important details about the jets. Government critics have agreed that it may be detrimental for security reasons to reveal the technical specifications of the jets but found it surprising that the government wanted to withhold informations about the cost involved in the business deal with the French company, Dassault Aviation.

They also cited instances when the cost of defence contracts were made public by different governments.

While the Modi government could have easily nipped the controversy in the bud by providing a factual rejoinder, it has only been seeing the questions raised as an attempt by the opposition to politicise a national security issue.

Jaitley’s response, too, sought to peddle the same logic. “Meanwhile, those raising alarm about the alleged danger to national security ought to realise their responsibility and refrain from politicising for narrow individual ends those very matters pertaining to defence of the nation that were consistently ignored by them and by those with whom they sympathise,” he said.