With Congress and BJP being constantly engaged in a war of words on the Rafale deal, the multi-billion fighter jets deal has become the talking point of every debate. In April 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that India will buy 36 French-manufactured Rafale fighter jets off-the-shelf from Dassault, the French aircraft builder, and integrator. India and France signed a deal worth euro 7.87 billion (Rs 59,000 crore approximately) in September 2016 for 36 Rafale jets. The delivery will start from September 2019.

The Initial Plan

India’s original plan, under UPA, was to buy 126 jets, out of which India would buy 18 ready Rafale fighter jets from France’s Dassault Aviation, and assemble 108 in India by the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. But the plan didn’t go according to UPA’s commitment and when Modi-led BJP government came to power, the NDA government said buying 126 Rafale jets will be too expensive and it will also take decades to complete the negotiations between India and France. Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened and decided to buy 36 ready-to-buy Rafale jets instead of acquiring the technology from Dassault and manufacture the jets in India.

After the deal was struck, Congress accused the BJP-led government of misleading the people and non-transparency in the deal. The Congress also accused the BJP of failing in the ‘Make-in-India’ programme. In January 2016, India confirmed order of 36 Rafale jets in a defence deal with France and under this deal, Dassault and its main partners – engine-maker Safran and electronic systems-maker Thales – will share some technology with DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) and some private sector companies and HAL under the offsets clause.

The Big Announcement

After one-and-half-years in power, the NDA government announced the deal during PM Modi’s visit to Paris in September 2016. India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France, dubbed as “Rafale deal”. As part of the deal, India will pay a 15% advance and deliveries would start in three years. India will also get latest weapons like the Meteor and Scalp missiles as part of the contract, besides a five-year support package that assures high availability of the fighter.

Congress And BJP Fight Over Fighter Jets

After the deal was inked, a political warfare over the Rafale deal began and the Congress started accusing the BJP government of causing loss of taxpayers money by signing a Rs 59,000 crore deal. NDA government has insisted that it got significantly better terms than those quoted in the original bid under UPA. Congress alleged that the cost of each aircraft is three times more than what the previous UPA had negotiated with France in 2012. Congress has accused the BJP of buying the jets of Rs 520 crore at the price of Rs 1,600 crore. “Why did you buy an aircraft of Rs 520 crore at the cost of Rs 1,600 crore? Who were you (Modi) trying to benefit?” Congress president Rahul Gandhi asked in a press conference. However, a cost breakdown of Rafale in the original bid under UPA and in the government-to-government deal under NDA are not in the public domain.

What’s Anil Ambani Got To Do With It?

Well, that’s not it, Congress has accused that the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence Limited had been unfairly picked to be the French firm’s Indian partner. “Bring a joint parliamentary committee probe. The entire country wants to know what is the deal between Narendra Modi and Anil Ambani,” Gandhi said, taking a dig at the deal. Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy alleged that the prime objective of the Rafale contract was to help Ambani, who floated a new company just before 12 days striking of the deal.

Facing allegations of getting undue benefits from the Rafale deal, the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group has sent legal notices to several Congress leaders asking them to “cease and desist” from levelling such charges. On the defamation suits, Gandhi said, “Anil Ambani can file as many defamation suits he wants but he cannot change the truth, which is, note ban was implemented to help 15-20 crony capitalists.” The Anil Ambani group has denied receiving any contract from the Defence ministry and said “unfounded and incorrect” allegations were being made to “mislead” people and cloud the issue.

Why No Clear Details?

In February, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the Rafale jet deal is “classified information” and cannot be disclosed. But, she has also assured that the NDA has a better deal, and the prices shall soon be made public. She has refuted all allegations of ‘scam’ alleged by the Congress in the Rafale deal, calling them baseless. Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari, on the other hand, asked the Modi government to share details of the Rafale deal with the country if there was nothing “shady” about it.

As political slug fest on Rafale deal gets murkier, the Rafale jets delivery is scheduled from September 2019. Amidst the political war, many questions on the much-hyped deal remained unanswered.