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Credibility test

Editorial |

Provided that none of the entities chicken out, and matters are taken to their logical conclusion, the legal notices sent to 11 spokespersons of the Congress party by the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group (defence) could develop into a test case of business houses taking on politicians.

Curiously, Rahul Gandhi is not among the “accused” 11. The larger issue goes beyond the “cease desist” demand on one element (offsets) of the deal to buy Rafale combat jets from France. Since Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman has taken the lead role in insisting that the deal was above aboard, the government should not shy away from all the cards being laid on a judicial table.

Asking the Congress party not to publicly only slam the Reliance outfit ~ the notices were sent just ahead of the party launching a campaign to protest suspected kickbacks in the purchase ~ is as evasive as the political rhetoric unleashed by the Congress, as if that rebuts the allegations.

The nation in general, the defence community in particular, would be anxious that the deal is “judicially cleared”. From the mid-1980s, the shadow of the Bofors kickbacks has been hanging over every major military acquisition, and the nation owes it to the soldier to furnish incontrovertible evidence that his weaponry is not tainted by corruption.

Without in any way seeking to certify the Rafale deal, it is worth noting that the Congress has been firing away like loose cannon. The party is uncertain if its case rests on the price being set for 36 jets in condition ~ it claims the UPA had negotiated a better price for the 126 it had planned to buy and enter into a joint-production agreement; since the deal was never finalised details of the cost of weapons, avionics etc were never announced ~ or if all due procedural clearances were obtained before the purchase was concluded.

Sitharaman’s contention that a secrecy clause prohibits disclosure of pricing details is thin: the Indian taxpayer is entitled to a ballpark figure of how his money is being spent.

On what professional recommendation was a deal for just 36 planes struck, why was the much-vaunted “make in India” policy abandoned ~ these would be more relevant queries for the Congress to raise, and why were they not raised earlier? Rahul and Co are creating an impression they are seeking revenge for Bofors. The frightening reality of the IAF fleet being drastically depleted is being ignored.

Decades back the alleged Tata-Birla link to politicians was the order of the day. The complexion of the government may have changed, Ambani and Adnani are the present principals in the politician-businessman nexus.

The common man remains confused ~ and it is unlikely that the entire Rafale deal will be subjected to judicial scrutiny for a lawyer’s notice is not a legal proceeding. For all that Rahul may rant, Reliance and off-sets are a trivial side-show.