Probing Modi’s decision to buy 36 Rafales at a higher price

A Rafale aircraft performs at the biennial air show Aero India 2019 at the Yelahanka Air Force Station near Bengaluru on Februray 20, 2019. Source: The Hindu / Bhagya Prakash K

In April 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the purchase of 36 Rafale off-the-shelf aircraft jets from France as part of a inter-governmental defence agreement.

This decision turned out to be controversial as the Indian Air Force had sought 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft for its strategic needs.

Previously the Rafale aircraft was chosen among shortlisted candidates by the Indian Air Force and an agreement was being worked on for the sale of 126 aircraft (108 to be built by India’s HAL and 18 to be bought directly from France).

Modi’s announcement in April 2015, which led to the deal, changed the contours of the earlier proposed agreement and resulted in a political controversy over whether the new deal was more costlier than what was being agreed upon.

The six-part series by N.Ram published in The Hindu between January and April 2019 is a comprehensive look at various aspects of the controversial fighter aircraft purchase deal between the Indian and French governments.

The article focuses on a series of issues related to costing of the aircraft, procurement process, offset agreements among others, based on official and sourced documents.

Throughout the life cycle of the deal and beyond, the political opposition in India had raised questions about aspects of the deal which had led to parliamentary discussions on the issue. Several aspects of the deal were however either not revealed or not clarified by the government.

Each article by N Ram broke down arguments over whether the deal had secured the best interest in terms of cost and future strategic interests besides focusing on whether well laid out guidelines on defence procurement procedures were met. It also brought to light the dissenting positions of defence officials who found fault with some aspects of the deal.

The investigative stories by N Ram explained these aspects in a clear and detailed manner that allowed readers to understand the complexity of the procurement process, and to make informed assessments of whether the deal fit the guidelines that were set for defence purchases in India.

The articles were accompanied by detailed documentation and graphical information on overall and component costs, comparison between projected aligned costs and final offer; notes by defence officials with their positions on aspects relating to the deal and a concise break-down of this information.

Areas related to self-reliance in defence production, strategic affairs, procedures in public finance were covered extensively in order to bring out these articles that added substantially to public discourse. While some of the revelations in the series of articles were already published by other outlets, the distinguishing factor was the comprehensive and thorough look at various ends of the deal helping the readers to be better informed.

The full article package is hosted here.

This story is a compilation of a series of articles by Narasimhan Ram published by The Hindu from Jan 18 to April 9.