Should India take François Hollande’s bombshell over the Rafale deal at face value, or is there a need to be circumspect? After all, if Hollande had smelled a rat, he could have easily asked what was going on, and why they were not made a party to the exercise of choosing the Indian firm.
Clearly, the former French president's statement is an afterthought, and he has to back his words with rock solid evidence. So far, it is just a statement. Even if India had recommended a specific entity, the fact that France readily agreed to it indicates a certain happy collusion.
Naturally, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has jumped the gun and, in a statement on Twitter, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of having betrayed India and having dishonoured the blood of our soldiers.
These are opportunistic histrionics by a man who is now pretending that it was at his behest that the former French president made these revelations. However, leaving this aspect aside, the Rafale deal has begun to emit a stench of its own and rival the controversies over the Bofors guns and AgustaWestland choppers.
At this juncture, Hollande has flung gallons of fuel into the fire and actually let down Dassault, which has been forced into clumsy denial today. The firm is visibly into damage control of a rather pathetic kind. Denying the claim of your former president cannot be pleasant. Whichever way one sees the issue, one of them is lying, and that is unconscionable.
Why has Hollande been silent all this while, and what has prompted him to come forward now? Is there some disenchantment between him and Dassault, or has some promise not been honoured? Is he deflecting attention from some other latent scandal whose skeletons are rattling in the cupboard? It is not normal for a former president of a nation to let down a major corporation that flies the same flag. Behind this controversy, there may be a war in the corridors of power in France, or Hollande may be seeking a little of the lost limelight by being outrageous.
Of course, it is possible that the Indian government indicated its desire to give the contract to Reliance Defence. But surely a company like Dassault would still engage in due diligence before handing over the whole blueprint for building their jet fighters, risking their credibility and that of Rafale globally.
So, if we accept that France was comfortable with Reliance Defence's capability, we are now left with Hollande versus Dassault on the issue of whether the Modi government favoured a particular firm.
The answer to that depends largely on how Hollande backs the statement he gave to French journal Mediapart. Before the controversy escalates, it is necessary for Modi and his frontline to respond to Hollande's allegations.
What the government should do is to share the inside story about the deal without engaging in any prevarication. It should do this in a manner which is unconnected to the impasse in France between a former president and the top aviation manufacturer in that country. That is their fight, this is ours.
Updated Date: Sep 22, 2018 16:42 PM