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Sharad Pawar’s clean chit for Modi knocks out Rahul Gandhi’s Rafale campaign

Talking of 126, UPA didn’t buy even one, Modi armed the IAF with at least with 36

Sharad Pawar is right. People do not believe Narendra Modi is corrupt, though what people believe about Pawar need not detain us here. Suffice to say not only is Modi seen not to be corrupt but, truth to tell, he is NOT corrupt. Period. Sometimes image and reality do reflect the real thing. The NCP boss, therefore, would lend no credence to any suggestion that there was bribery in the Rafale deal. No way. Nor would , for that matter, a host of Opposition leaders who nonetheless are as desperate, if not more, to see the back of the squeaky-clean Modi as is the Supreme Leader of the Congress Party.

Rahul’s one-man band on Rafale has to necessarily rely on the party minions for creating noise with the singular objective of smearing the image of the prime minister. How can the Gandhis ever hope to regain power without first pulling down Modi to their own scam-tainted level! They are, you see, fighting for their own version of a level-playing field. Thanks to their failure to vet their own backyard before throwing stones at Modi, the on-going noise over the French fighter jets has resulted in the Gandhis’ son-in-law, the ubiquitous Robert Vadra, India’s own version of Mr Ten Percent, being dragged in. Can there be no defence purchase without the grubby hands of the Family reaching out for the commissions and the bribes?

Whether or not you have noticed it, Rahul has begun to trust in his own Rafale-gas-fuelled balloons, dreaming of wresting power in the next election. The bravado is reflected in the promise to do this and to undo that egregious misdeed of Modiji “when we come to power.” Last week, he ranted against GST, calling it Gabbar Singh Tax. On Rafale, he has threatened to `put everyone in jail who was responsible for the deal.’

Of course, the sole ownership of this deal lies with none other than the prime minister. Modi, as his wont, motivated by the desire to burnish his image as a doer, virtually a one-man Cabinet, Gujarat- style, who does not shy from taking quick decisions, sought to impress by springing the deal on the country on the eve of his visit to France. Money was not his motive. It does not drive him as it does over ninety-ninety percent of the politicians. His clean image, his obsession to accomplish things, often by short-circuiting painfully slow bureaucratic procedures and processes , his overriding concern to deliver and to be seen to be delivering remain his chief drivers. Unlike his predecessor, he does not sit on his hands. He believes in going out and doing things.

As is widely known, the demand for the Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft was first raised by the Indian Air Force in the early 2000s. Concrete proposal and tendering was completed in 2007. But for seven years Defence Minister NO- Decision Antony sat on the successful bid for 126 aircraft by Dassault Aviation, a French Government undertaking. Whether the reason was the Dassault refusal to partner Vadra’s associate, the fixer Sanjay Bhandari, for offsets or something else is hard to tell, but on the record Antony cited the lack of funds for the failure to go ahead with the final order. A video clip of Antony saying this at a press conference is doing the rounds.

( Incidentally, the same Antony readily coughed up thousands of crores for the Augusta Westland VVIP helicopters. He then did not think there was any shortage of funds. Could it be that the deal with the Italian firm went through with supersonic speed since it obviated the need for a Delhi-based Ottavio Quattorocchi because, in this case, the commissions could be directly delivered to the ultimate beneficiary. )

In this backdrop, Modi pared down the order from 126 to 36 aircraft --- remember there is this paucity of funds as testified by none other than Antony himself --- and on the eve of his departure for Paris announced the new deal with Dassault. Not unlike the way he one fine evening went on air to junk ninety percent of the currency.

What the previous government had failed to do in a whole decade, he had done overnight, though he had to reduce the number of fighter jets because he had inherited an empty treasury. In other words, if the Rafale is at all a scam, which in the conventional sense of bribes and commissions it certainly is not, it is, like notebandi, only in the fact that Modi acted unilaterally, even arbitrarily. The obligatory due diligence, the laid-own drill was done away with for the sake of a prompt decision a la Gujarat.

However, the Government’s handling of the Rafale controversy is awful. Instead of offering clear and cogent answers to all questions, particularly the choice of the offsets partner, it has taken a page from Indira Gandhi’s playbook, invoking the foreign hand, etc. This will not wash. Sections of the English language media will remain hostile, particularly now because those who mentor the Congress boss from outside, operate through well-placed proxies in media outlets. It is for the government to tell that enhancing the IAF fire-power with 36 fighters is immensely better than waiting indefinitely for the 126 jets not one of which materialized under UPA.

Also, the offsets partner might be a greenhorn in the field, which it necessarily has to be since the defence sector was newly opened for private participation, but there was no money involved. Above all, there was no Quattrocchi, no Vadra. Which in itself is a great advance over the ten, scam-filled years of the UPA.

Let me conclude with a rather crude but apt joke. When an old Mercedes beat a newly-minted Fiat in the race, everyone was surprised to learn that actually the Merc had no engine. When asked, the winner boasted, “ Mercedes, runs on its reputation alone …” In the case of Rafale, Modi cannot continue to rely on reputation alone. Perception in politics is important. Don’t stake your reputation. Instead, take the people into confidence.

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Whither secularism?

After the newly-minted Shiv Bhakat arranged to be greeted by a handful of saffron-clad Kanwariyas in his parliamentary constituency Amethi recently, the Congress’ Bihar unit did one better. In its bid to project itself as a Hindu-Hindu party, posters announcing the names of the top Bihar leaders were plastered all over Patna complete with their photographs. Under the visages of Rahul and Bihar Chief Madan Mohan Jha, it was written representatives of Brahmins; AICC in-charge Shaktisinh Gohil was described as a Rajput , so on and so forth it carried the photos and castes of all members of the BPCC.

Incidentally, by what logic does Rahul claim to be a Brahmin. He certainly cannot claim to be a Brahmin on the ground that he has attained mastery over the Hindu scriptures. Strictly going by lineage, he is far from being a Brahmin since Rajiv was a half-Parsi and a half-Hindu. The patriarchal system a majority of the voters follow would make him a Parsi, not a Brahmin. His claim to be a ~janeudhari~ Brahmin is weakened further since his mother is a devout Catholic . A case of blatant hoodwink, isn’t it?