Delhi: In 1987, when VP Singh blew the lid off the Bofors scandal, the entire nation found a messiah in Singh. The scandal involved illegal kickbacks paid in a US$1.4 billion deal between the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors with the then government of India for the sale of 410 field howitzer guns, and a supply contract almost twice that amount. The then Congress government went on the back foot as a series of revelations in the press opened a can of worms. Rajiv Gandhi’s image of a clean and incorruptible politician took a severe beating.
Thirty years after this infamous scam, another defense related alleged scandal has come to haunt a political party, and this time it is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
At a press conference held in Delhi today, Swaraj Abhiyan founder Prashant Bhushan, along with former union ministers– Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, pointed out several discrepancies in the Rafale aircraft deal.
They accused the Narendra Modi government of ‘ever-shifting statements’, claiming it is a ‘gross violation of mandatory procedures’. According to Arun Shourie, who covered and closely followed the Bofors scam in the eighties, the Bofors was nothing compared to the Rafale scam. He also called upon the opposition parties to pursue the Rafale deal and call it the bluff of the BJP. Shourie, who served as the minister of communications in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, claimed that Rafale deal is a massive scandal which has the capacity to jeopardise national security. “PM Narendra Modi’s own core team was kept in the dark,” he added.
Senior lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan called the deal a case of “criminal misconduct”. He said, “It is nothing but a textbook case of criminal misconduct, of misuse of public office, and of enriching parties at the expense of the national interest and national security.” He even went out on a limb saying that PM Modi was involved directly in the criminal misconduct and claimed that this is a clear case of undue favour being given to businessman Anil Ambani.
The three leaders also came down like a ton of bricks on the Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Defence, saying that the company which was “under Rs 8,000 crore in debt and had no experience in making aircraft” was given the contract rather than Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL).
Reiterating Shourie’s claims, the acerbic Yashwant Sinha, who was also finance minister in Vajpayee’s government, said, “CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General of India) should conduct an audit of Rafale deal and submit a report within 3 months. Bofors pales into insignificance as compared to Rafale.”
Quoting a February 16, 2017 press release by French manufacturer Dassault Aviation and Reliance Defence, and a financial press release statement of Dassault for 2016, Bhushan, Shourie and Sinha said the total price of 36 aircraft is about Rs 60,000 crore, which works out to be Rs 1,660 crore per plane.
“This is more than double the price of the aircraft under the original 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) category and almost ₹1,000 crore higher per aircraft than the price furnished by the government itself, to the Parliament on November 18, 2016,” they said in a joint press statement.
They added that the Rafale fighter aircraft deal was the “biggest defence scam ever”, and accused the BJP-led Centre of “compromising national security”.
With additional inputs from agencies.