L’affaire Rafale must be probed by a JPC

L’affaire Rafale must be probed by a JPC

Congress party supporters get their heads shaved during a protest against the Rafale fighter jet deal, in New Delhi. Credit: AFP File Photo

The opening of a judicial investigation in France into the controversial 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft from Dassault Aviation by the Narendra Modi government has raised fresh doubts and questions about the deal. The French investigation is into alleged corruption and favouritism in the deal and would examine the actions of the then President François Hollande, current President Emmanuel Macron, who was then a minister, and others. Other charges being probed are influence peddling, money laundering and undue tax waivers. The investigation was ordered following disclosures by a French news website about the role of an Indian middleman in the deal and other matters. The French investigation has led to demands in India for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had alleged irregularities in the deal and had demanded an investigation before the 2019 general elections. The Congress party has reiterated the demand now.

The Supreme Court had rejected a petition filed by former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie seeking a CBI investigation into the deal. The court’s decision had not cleared all doubts about the deal in the public domain. It also did not give a clean chit to the government in the matter. Fresh information that has now come to light strengthens the demand for an investigation. There is mention of a middleman in the deal, though the government has always maintained that there was no middleman. There are more details about the association between Dassault and Anil Ambani’s Reliance group, which at the last minute emerged as the offset partner, replacing Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). It has now been revealed that Dassault signed its first agreement with the Reliance company two weeks before Prime Minister Modi announced his decision to buy 36 Rafale jets and to scrap the earlier negotiations for 126 aircraft. The terms of the Dassault-Reliance agreement are also unusual, and documents which are now public show that Dassault had no interest in its partnership with Reliance other than for political reasons. The role of Reliance then becomes central to the controversy.

All the questions that have been raised about the Rafale deal, then and now, need clearer and truthful answers than those given by the government, including to the Supreme Court. Now that much new information on wrongdoing in both France and India is in the public domain and the French authorities have begun an investigation into L’affaire Rafale, a JPC probe in India is a must, and most suitable given the sensitive nature of the issues to be probed. The government should subject itself to such a probe.