The Rafale ghost has come back to haunt the NDA government. It is beginning to appear that the fighter jet deal is to the BJP what Bofors was to the Congress. The decision of the French government to appoint a judge to investigate the allegations of corruption in the Rs 59,000-crore deal for the supply of 36 combat jets has triggered a fresh political storm. The Centre needs to allay the apprehensions of not just the opposition parties but the public as well. A probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee would be the right way to get to the bottom of the truth as the multi-crore agreement has once again come under the scanner following the decision of France’s National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF). Though the Supreme Court gave a clean chit to the government in November 2019 and rejected the demand for a CBI probe, it would now be appropriate for the Centre to clear the air once and for all in view of the new development in France. The furore over the controversial agreement had dominated the political campaign in the previous Lok Sabha elections but failed to strike resonance with the voters. There is no doubt that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and the apex court found nothing wrong in the deal. But this does not mean that the issue should be buried without a fair probe. In fact, the top echelons of the government and the judiciary had come under the opposition criticism for the alleged cover-up.
Not surprisingly, the latest action from France has prompted the Congress to sharpen the attack on the Centre and revive the demand for a comprehensive probe. Merely dismissing the opposition charges as lies would not help. The government needs to take a fresh look at the issue and do whatever necessary to remove doubts over the deal. France’s Dassault Aviation had initially won a contract in 2012 to supply 126 jets to India and was negotiating with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Later, HAL was replaced by the Reliance Group and a new contract for 36 jets was finalised. The announcement was made in an India-France joint statement when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited France in April 2015. The new probe by PNF follows a series of reports published by Mediapart, a French investigative website, regarding the deal. It was based on a complaint filed by Sherpa, an NGO which works in the field of financial crimes. The NGO had filed the first complaint with PNF in October 2018, based on a representation made by former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, and lawyer Prashant Bhushan with the CBI. Dassault Aviation has, however, steadfastly denied all corruption allegations.