Rafale Controversy Continues to Heat Up

Indian politics are heating up as the elections for the Lok Sabha draw closer and closer. As Congress continues to be behind in the opinion polls, they are trying to find ways to tear support away from the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Rahul Gandhi, the President of Congress, has been focusing on the alleged corruption Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been facing over the Rafale deal. Speaking on Modi last week, Gandhi said in very strong terms that “The Prime Minister of India is corrupt, I want to tell the youth of the nation that he is corrupt”. These words come after a 2012 deal under PM Manmohan Singh for 126 Rafale jets to be manufactured by French Dassault Aviation, was scrapped by Modi for an alternative deal where only 36 jets were to be made by Dassault Aviation and the rest inside India by Reliance Defense Limited.


Modi has faced very harsh criticism from inside and outside India over his handling of the deal. Former French President Francois Hollande criticized Modi saying that Dassault had no say in the deal. After Hollande, Rahul Gandhi was also critical in saying that within an internal Dassault document, it said it was an “imperative and obligatory” condition for Dassault to work with Reliance Defense Limited as a part of the contract.


Gandhi also highlighted the fact that Reliance Defense Limited is owned by Indian billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani. Modi is known to have friendly relationships with both of the Amabanis, something that Gandhi was sure to point out. “His favorite bhai (brother) is Anil Ambani” Gandhi said this week in Madhya Pradesh, drawing the connections between the handling of the deal and Reliance.


Gandhi has continued to claim that Modi’s scrapping of the original Rafale deal is a clear cut case of corruption by Modi. The Congress allegations on the Rafale deal got another round of attention after the comments by Francois Hollande. Gandhi said last week that “… the former President of France had said that the Indian PM had asked him to give the contract. There is a clear-cut case of corruption against the PM of India,”. Indian media reported that Dassault was forced to work along side Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Defense, and that Dassault had no say in the deal or who they got to work with in making the Rafale jets. Gandhi continued to make strong statements toward the Indian PM, “There is one thing very clear and the people will also understand that the PM of India is corrupt. There will be more information that will come forward from other contracts…in Rafale, there is clear cut corruption by the PM and that should be investigated,”


Answering the claims from Congress and Gandhi, BJP spokesman Sambit Patra claimed that those who are accusing Modi of corruption have also been accused of corruption themselves. “An atmosphere of falsehood is being created in the country and Rahul Gandhi is trying to fulfill his political ambitions through these lies…the people of the country should now decide who they want to believe.” The Modi government has denied the allegations brought up by Congress and has dismissed in wrong dealing in the handling of the deal.


In an attempt to show support, Gandhi said that he will meet with employees of Hindustan Aeronautics in Bangalore, who he believed should of won the Rafale contract. Gandhi said that there is a need to "defend the dignity of India’s defenders”. Gandhi claimed that the deal was snatched away from Hindustan Aeronautics and instead gifted to Reliance. Gandhi reaffirmed his backing of the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics and said that they are a “strategic asset and future of India’s aerospace industry”.


While Congress and Gandhi are typically critical of PM Modi, they are amping up their attacks on Modi as elections for the Lok Sabha are coming up in mid-2019. Modi does hold a very large lead over Gandhi as Prime Minister, somewhere between 26% to 43%. However, since Modi has already been in office for four years, Indian’s may be fed up with Modi’s government and may seek for Gandhis’s alternative answers. Congress and Gandhi will be sure to try and capitalize on this controversy and swing votes their way. We will find out soon enough if this current Rafale controversy will effect Modi’s popularity and inevitably his office.