Tushar Mehta seems to be suffering from an identity crisis these days and it is only proper one avoids mentioning his designation until he sorts out his confusion. But that would mean leaving him unidentified since even in legal circles he was little known until recently.
Technically, he is the Solicitor General, India’s second highest legal officer, who appears for the Government in higher courts. On November 16, he appeared for the Central Vigilance Commission before the Supreme Court and created a moment of confusion for everyone.
Certain things are best conveyed in direct speech. So here goes the conversation that took place in the court of the Chief Justice of India between Mehta and the CJI:
Mehta: “Despite being counsel for the CVC, I have not seen the report (CVC’s investigation report on allegations made by CBI special director Rakesh Asthana against benched CBI director Alok Verma)”
CJI Ranjan Gogoi: “Who are you?” (a question judges ask lawyers to find out who they represent)
Mehta: “I am CVC.”
CJI: “You are the author of the report and you have not seen it?”
Mehta: “I, as a lawyer, have not seen it.”
While the conversation gave the impression that the hearing had entered the metaphysical realm, there are reasons to believe that Mehta may be genuinely confused and perhaps asking, ‘who am I?’
Not long after he was made additional solicitor general, Mehta sought the Government of India’s permission to appear as counsel for Amit Shah and his son in a defamation case. When you are the legal officer who should be preparing and appearing for different arms of the government, but is sometimes forced to appear for private citizens to whom you may be obliged, confusion can be very real.
The Chief Executive Officer of Dassault Aviation Eric Trappier says that he does not lie. It reminds one of a story of a king who promised a prize to the one who tells the best lie. While the courtiers all tried to tell the most unbelievable tales in their effort to win the prize, the king found his minister silent. So he asked him why he was not participating in the competition, to which the minister replied, “I do not lie.” The king had no hesitation in awarding the prize to his minister.
Trappier’s tweets in the initial period after he took over as CEO are enough to show the inconsistencies in his and his company’s claims on the Rafale deal. There are different versions on who chose the offset partner and why the price is higher after Narendra Modi renegotiated the deal. Yet Trappier is obliging the Indian media in exposing the Rafale deal by making strange claims daily. Is he actually working for the best interest of his company or is he on some mission to expose the Modi Government?
Despite news televisions’ efforts to trivialise, sensationalise, focus on non-existent controversies and do everything possible to shield the Narendra Modi Government from being exposed from all kinds of scandals, embarrassments and setbacks it has been facing, the Rafale deal may have acquired critical mass to be classified as a scam at least in the minds of the public.
Supporters of Modi have begun acknowledging that Rafale is a problem. There have been several issues that have come up in the last four-and-a-half years that would have given a non-partisan person reasons to believe that Modi was no crusader against corruption but another politician. However, the average Modi supporter was not ready to believe anything was wrong.
The change in mind-set now is evident the way actor Anupam Kher has been behaving on Twitter recently. Kher is no longer a die-hard Modi apologist. Though his remarks “history would judge Manmohan Singh better” may be dismissed as a marketing gimmick for promoting the film where he has played Singh’s character, his reluctance to vocally defend all deeds of the BJP and Modi Government lately suggests there is a sense of disillusionment.
Kher is not an exception. Several hard-core Modi supporters personally known to me, who may still vote for BJP, look like they have lost the conviction and vigour to defend Modi. Congress President Rahul Gandhi should be given credit for this. His repeated allegations on Rafale seem to have been instrumental in causing the disillusionment.
Not Oranges Anymore
Defence correspondent Ajai Shukla in his report in the Business Standard says that the price per Rafale aircraft after Modi renegotiated the contract is 40% higher than the earlier price per fighter jet, when everything is accounted for.
Shukla has quoted two senior defence ministry officials who were directly involved in the negotiations of the contract with Dassault since 2012. According to him, Dassault’s winning bid amounted to Euro 19.5 billion for 126 Rafale fighters when the UPA Government negotiated it.
After factoring in money for technology transfer, indigenisation, India-specific enhancements, weaponry, spares, maintenance guarantees, HAL’s higher labour costs for 18 planes bought in ‘fly away condition’ and 108 made in India, the per plane cost would have been Rs 1,000 crore.
Modi renegotiated this deal in September 2016 to pay an average of Rs 1,400 crore per plane for no reason. India simply agreed to pay 40% higher price to Dassault’s 2012 figure for buying the same jets with same configuration. There was nothing added. India’s losses, therefore, include Rs 16,000 crore for the jets, loss of transfer of technology to HAL and loss of jobs for making the aircraft. The Air Force will have 90 jets less too. Dassault will gain Rs 15,000 crore extra for the 36 planes, Reliance Defence gets the offset business and possibly would be selected to partner Dassault for servicing and maintenance. So India has lost while a private company each in India and France have gained.
Defenders of the Rafale deal, from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, have insisted that it was not possible to compare the first Rafale deal and current one because they were different. Since it’s not apples and oranges anymore, Jaitley, Sitharaman and Prasad should explain why they said the jets were 9 to 20% cheaper and why it was not possible to compare the deals.
The Supreme Court which has to ask for more clarifications and documents on the deal hopefully has all the documents to take a studied view on both the deals. At the moment, it has reserved its order on whether the Rafale deal needs to be probed. The court ruling is sure to have an impact on Modi’s future, either way.(Published on 19th November 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 47)