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Interview With KC Venugopal

Interview With KC Venugopal

The controversial purchase of Rafale jets by the Modi government has evoked strong reactions from the opposition and experts alike. The opposition, former BJP ministers and a section of legal and defence experts have accused the Modi government over the manner deal was sealed. India's biggest defence scam, compromised national security and looted national exchequer etc. are the charges levelled by the Opposition and experts against the Government on the Rafale deal. Also, they have dismissed all the explanations given by the Modi government and the ruling BJP in justifying the deal as "blatant lies" and said Modi "usurped the authority" and unilaterally cancelled the original deal for the sake of his "crony capitalists".  Their attacks targeted Union Minister Arun Jaitley, industrialist Anil Ambani and Air Force Vice-Chief on the deal.

In defence, the government has refuted charges stating that the opposition parties were trying to malign the Narendra Modi government by presenting fabricated facts regarding the India-France Rafale fighter jet deal.

Anju Grover for Indian Currents spoke to K C Venugopal, senior Congress leader and MP, on the reasons of attack on the government on Rafale deal and why it was wrong to ignore the deal signed by the UPA with French government on jets and sign a fresh deal by the Modi government at an exorbitant price. Congress leader accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of ‘compromising national security’ by unilaterally finalising the deal and shunning every rule of military procurement.

IC:   What are your objections to the Rafale deal?

K C Venugopal: Rafale deal is one of the biggest scams of the country, perpetrated with the full knowledge of Prime Minister. Prime Minister, Defence Minister and BJP leaders are trying to hide the huge financial loss caused to the nation and nepotism shown to the crony capitalists. This government is guilty of compromising national security while finalising the mysterious deal.

IC: Why did the NDA government cancel the purchase of 126 Rafales, signed by the UPA government? They must have found some loopholes or lacunae in the deal. Your comments.

That's not true. The ‘Agreement between the government of India and the government of the French Republic concerning the protection of Classified Information and Material in the Field of Defence’ was signed by the two governments on January 25, 2008. On January 31, 2012, Dassault Aviation's Rafale won the bid to supply the Indian Air Force with 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft. It was also agreed that the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to build 108 of the 126 Rafales in Bangalore. This would have generated employment in the country. As per terms and conditions, Dassault would transfer technology to India. Out of 126, only 18 aircrafts will be made in France. Rest of 108 aircrafts will be made by HAL in Bangalore. Fifty percent of the money in the deal will be spent in the country. There weren't any loopholes or lacunae in the agreement. In fact the UPA deal was more favourable to India in terms of cost, employment generation and technology transfer.

IC: Congress has raised objections to the manner Prime Minister Modi broke the convention by announcing the deal on foreign soil and also kept the Defence Ministry and External Affairs Ministry, HAL in dark? Was it not done?

The deal was signed by the Prime Minister by overtaking all procedural norms. The requirements of DPP i.e. Price Discovery through ‘Contract Negotiation Committee’ (CNC) and ‘Price Negotiation Committee’ (PNC) were not followed. The PM had not taken the mandatory prior approval of ‘Cabinet Committee on Security’ before announcing purchase of 36 Rafale aircrafts on 10th April, 2015. On April 8, 2015, Foreign Secretary had denied any proposal regarding purchase of Rafale Aircrafts during PM Modi’s visit to France. Then how did PM sign a very significant deal without these procedural norms? Was he using any magic wand to carve out a deal to help his friends in the corporate house?

IC: Congress president Rahul Gandhi had raised the issue of Rafale deal in Parliament during the no confidence motion debate and sought to know the price of the fighter jets. The government retaliated and refused to reveal the price. Why was the government hesitant to reveal the price?

The Government is misleading the nation on this issue. The deal signed during the Congress-UPA did not mention that the ‘Commercial Cost’ of Procurement of Defence Deals cannot be revealed. They are afraid of these facts. During no confidence motion debate, we had demanded from the Defence Minister to table the part of agreement which stated that ‘commercial cost of procurement of Defence Deals cannot be revealed. She was not ready to do so. We had even given a privilege notice to the Lok Sabha speaker against Prime Minister and Defence Minister. No action was taken. The BJP leaders are resorting to their usual tricks of personal slandering and indulging in malicious propaganda.

IC: Do you think the current price of Rafale jet fighters is over-priced because it has gone from Rs 520 odd crore to Rs 1,600 crore?  

Yes, the current price of Rafael jet fighters is over-priced. The new deal signed by Prime Minister has rejected all the favourable conditions made during the UPA regime. The number of aircrafts decreased from 126 to 36. During the UPA time, the cost came to ₹526.10 Cr i.e. ₹18,940 Cr for 36 aircrafts. The Modi government purchased 36 Rafale aircrafts for Euro 7.5 Billion (₹ 1670.70 Cr per aircraft) i.e. ₹60,145 Cr for 36 aircrafts. Ironically, Dassault Aviation sold 48 Rafale aircrafts to two other countries - Egypt and Qatar (24 to Egypt & 24 to Qatar) in the year 2015 for a mere Euro 7.9 Billion, i.e. ₹1319.80 Cr per aircraft. Then, why did India pay ₹ 1670.70 Cr per Rafale aircraft, purchase of which was announced by PM on 10th April, 2015? India is clearly paying an extra price of ₹.350.90 crore per aircraft or ₹.12,632 crore for 36 aircrafts.

IC: BJP president Amit Shah has criticised Congress president stating that he had quoted different prices of the aircraft at different places. Shah accused the Congress party of telling lies to fool the nation because Rafale price quoted by your party vary in Delhi, Karnataka, Raipur, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Parliament. Your comments…

BJP president Amit Shah's charges are baseless. It is BJP which is trying to befool the people by deliberately hiding cost of these aircrafts. They are also changing their stand on the deal. For instance, the defence minister had stated in the Parliament that the deal signed during the UPA regime forbid to reveal the cost of the procurement and hence the government cannot reveal the price. Surprisingly, on 18th November 2018, Dr. Subhash Bhamre, Minister of State in the Ministry of Defence revealed the price of the fighter jets in Parliament his reply to an unstarred question on the Rafale deal. This is nothing but double standards.

IC: Congress president Rahul Gandhi has demanded JPC?

We want an impartial inquiry to clear all cob webs in the deal. We want to know why all the conditions in the deal made during UPA time were rejected outright. Why did the Modi government compromise with national security and settled for an inexperienced private firm? Why should the country pay additional price for the fighter jets? Why is the government reluctant to reveal the cost of the Rafael jets? Only JPC can ensure a fair inquiry into this matter. If the Government has not done any wrong, why should it be afraid of JPC?

IC: The government seems in no mood to institute a JPC probe. What will be your next strategy?

The government is not ready to order a JPC probe because it is afraid of reality. The government has deliberately compromised the National Interest and National Security. The propaganda machinery of the Government is already in full mode to slander and malign others rather than give satisfactory answers. We will take this issue to the people. The Congress party, with the support of all other likeminded parties, will initiate a nation-wide campaign to expose the biggest scam.

IC: Will Rafale deal be part of Congress campaign in forthcoming assembly elections and in 2019 general elections?

We will certainly raise this issue in the coming days. But this is not a political issue to be raised in the context of elections only. This is a serious issue which has caused huge loss to the public exchequer as Government refuses to ‘state the truth’. It is the duty of each and every citizen in this country to make their Government accountable.

IC: Is opposition united on Rafale deal issue? Will you raise this issue in next session of Parliament?

All the opposition parties are united in this issue. We will raise this issue in next session of Parliament also.

(Published on 17th September 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 38)