Skip to main content

Why MJ Akbar’s defence of Rafale is less than convincing: Even he wouldn't rule out involvement of ‘A’ or ‘M’ Bhai

By Uttam Sengupta*
I have been an unabashed admirer of MJ Akbar as journalist, editor and writer. For reasons unknown to me, for some time I was also considered one of his several blue-eyed boys. He did give me the break I needed to get out of Ranchi, he persuaded me to shift to Patna and allowed me to cover Nepal. Although MJ was only a few years older to us, we looked up to him with awe.
He was of course a brilliant reporter and writer and we devoured everything that he wrote. Each one of us wished we could write as well as he did and it was with both envy and pride that we pored over what he wrote, including a delightful one on the Titanic clash between chess champions Bobby Fischer and Karpov. He had a sense of history that we didn’t have and of course we didn’t have half his talent and energy. He travelled, wrote books, drank like a fish, could dance through the night and put much younger men to shame and he somehow still found time to read voraciously. And his sense of history was awesome.
When Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister, never mind whether Tavleen Singh introduced MJ to the then PM or not, MJ like the majority of the people was smitten. When the controversy over Bofors surfaced, he scoffed at the scandal. “You think Prime Minister of India would compromise his position for 64 Crore Rupees, for god’s sake? Come with me to a mandi in Meerut and I will show you Rs 64 Crore in half a day,” he had told some of us.
Even more remarkably, long before Bofors surfaced, in June1986 he had said something that seared into my head. He felt sorry for both Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi, he had said. “Because CIA will not allow an independent Prime minister to function in the subcontinent. Their Governments will either be toppled or they will be assassinated.”
But then MJ, now a Union Minister of State for External Affairs, has come a long way and sees things differently. His writing had become listless and we slowly stopped waiting for his columns as we did earlier. Politics took a toll, we reflected. But when I saw his column in the Sunday Times of India ("Cut out the nonsense, there is no uncle Quatrocchi in the Rafale deal")  this morning, I read it with interest, partly because I have been following the Rafale controversy and have read almost everything that has been written so far on the subject. My pulse quickened as I anticipated MJ coming up with a fresh twist and some new information.
Uttam Sengupta
Before I explain why I was disappointed, let me summarise what MJ wrote. He begins by saying that common sense is the best antidote to nonsense and then picks on a tweet by Rahul Gandhi in which the Congress President had claimed that the Rafale deal had benefitted one particular industrialist to the tune of Rs 45,000 crore. Since the entire deal is worth Rs 58,000 crore, common sense, he suggests, defies why a vendor would be willing to give up so much to an industrialist.
MJ then moves to the pricing of a Rafale jet fighter and repeats the arguments offered earlier by Arun Jaitley. The price of Rs 538 or Rs 570 crore bandied around by Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, he says, was for the bare aircraft and with the escalation clause, weapons and accessories would have cost a whopping Rs 2023 crore per aircraft if the specifications accepted by the UPA were to be followed.
The third point he makes is that since 50% of the total value was to be ploughed back to India, the offset clause is for Rs 30,000 crore at best to be invested in India by Dassault and among 72 indian vendors. Therefore, it is preposterous to suggest that one industrialist has benefitted by Rs 45,000 crore. He also mentions that the Indian Government has no role in the distribution of this business in India.
Finally, he says that even Congress leaders admit ‘in private’ that no bribe has been paid. Hence there is no ‘Uncle Quatrocchi’ in the deal.
There is really nothing that is new in what MJ writes. This has been the Government of India’s defence from the beginning. It is of course significant that MJ did not pick on RG’s speech on the subject in the Lok Sabha (what happened by the way to the breach of privilege motion that BJP threatened to move against RG for misleading the House?) but latched on to a tweet.
But as a citizen, I would have liked to have answers to the following questions.
  • Why did the Prime Minister unilaterally scrap the earlier deal that even his Government negotiated with Dassault till March, 2015? Was it because of the high price as MJ and Arun Jaitley hint at?
  • Why and how did Prime Minister Narendra Modi decide that the Indian Air Force, which wanted 126 Rafale jets in 2008, needed only 36 Rafale jets in 2015-16? 
  • Why was Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) deprived of the status of Dassault’s offset partner and thus robbed of an opportunity to hone its indigenous capabilities?
  • Finally, MJ does not mention that the clause that foreign vendors need not have Government of India’s approval for choosing its offset partners was inserted in 2015, after PM Modi’s announcement of the new Rafale deal in Paris in April that year. Why was it put there? 
  • MoS ( Defence) Subhash Bhamre had informed Parliament in November 2016 that the price of each aircraft would come to Rs 670 Crore along with all accessories. Was he lying?
Finally, a puzzle. If everything is hunky dory with Rafale and the Modi government has nothing to hide (indeed everyone from Jaitley to MJ to Nirmala Sitharaman and Amit Shah have been busy quoting figures), why run away from a debate on Rafale in Parliament? Why raise the bogey of national security when union ministers are freely discussing figures on the media?
MJ is quite possibly right. There is no ‘uncle Quatrocchi’ in Rafale deal. But even he surely would not rule out the involvement of ‘A’ or ‘M’ Bhai?
I still believe MJ’s foray into politics has been journalism’s loss. I also wonder at times what could politics have given him that journalism didn’t? Nobody asked me to write this piece. But why do I have this lurking suspicion that MJ’s column in STOI is a command performance, that his ‘Editor’ bade him to write this defence?
---
*Senior journalist. Source: Uttam Sengupta's Facebook timeline

Comments

veerar said…
You mean titanic clash between Bobby Fischer and BORIS SPASSKY?

TRENDING

Whistle-blowing IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt's wife suspects foul play after truck hits her car

By Nachiketa Desai*
Paranoia has seized Shweta Bhatt, wife of suspended Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Sanjiv Bhatt, after the car she was driving was rammed in broad day light. According to Shweta Bhatt, it was beacon light-flashing truck without registration number plate. The incident took place on January 7, just a day ahead of the Gujarat High Court was scheduled to take up the bail application of Sanjiv Bhatt, arrested last year for "involvement" in a 23-year-old case.

Call to support IIM-Bangalore professor, censured for seeking action against Uniliver

Counterview Desk
Sections of the Indian Institute of Managements (IIMs) across India have strongly reacted to the decision to censure Dr Deepak Malghan, a faulty at IIM-Bangalore. Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil, who is faculty at IIM-Tiruchirapalli, has sought wider solidarity with Dr Malghan, saying, "The administration has censured Deepak for merely suggesting a meaningful action against Hindustan Unilever for their abysmal environmental record" by “disinviting” it for campus placement.

Morari Bapu, who has installed new statues of Ram, Laxman, Hanuman without weapons

By Sandeep Pandey*
A saint is one who can give some inner peace by his/her voice. This will happen only when s(he) will talk about love and harmony. Morari Bapu is one saint who has been conveying the message of love, peace, harmony, fraternity, etc. Today when a number of saffron clad figures with aggressive posture, spewing venom, fanning hatred to polarise voters are at the forefront of politics of Hindutva it is a relief to see Morari Bapu in a different mould.

99% MGNREGA funds "exhausted", Govt of India makes no additional sanctions: Study

Counterview Desk
A letter, addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and prepared by senior activists led by Aruna Roy on behalf of the Peoples’ Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG), and signed, among others, by 80 members of Parliament, has regretted that, despite repeated public statements by his government promising employment and job creation that will boost the country’s growth, the country’s only employment guarantee programme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), “is being systematically undermined.”

Nuclear reactors sought from French giant "not safe": Letter to Modi on Jaitapur project

Counterview Desk
Amidst reports that the French nuclear giant EDF has submitted a “techno-commercial offer” for the world’s largest nuclear power park proposed in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur nuclear power park in Jaitapur on the Maharashtra coast, Dr EAS Sarma, India’s former Union Secretary in the Minister of Power, and an eminent voice in the civil society, has written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who also heads Department of Atomic Energy (DAE),  protesting the move.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Kaiga NPP expansion: Karnataka to get just 400 MW, but lose thick forest, fresh water

Counterview Desk
In an open letter to the chairman and members of the Atomic energy Commission (AEC) on the issue of Kaiga nuclear power plant (NPP) expansion plan in Karnataka, Shankar Sharma, well-known power policy analyst, has argued that that in case of expansion, the site will face “exponential increase in radiation emission risks”, underlining, “Nuclear safety experts identify such a scenario as enhanced risk for NPPs with multiple reactors and shared technical facilities."
Sharma says the questions that also be asked whether Karnataka should lose more than 54 hectares of thick forests and about 152,304 cubic meters of fresh water per day from Kali river for a meager benefit of 400 MW from the Kaiga NPP, for which “there are many benign alternative options available for the state at much lower overall costs to the state.”
Text of the letter: This has reference to the public hearing under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Rule 2006 of Ministry of Environment, Fore…

Uttarakhand High Court: Biodiversity boards can impose fees on Ramdev's Divya Pharmacy

By Mridhu Tandon
In a significant decision, the Uttarakhand High Court on December 21, 2018 has dismissed the writ petition filed by Divya Pharmacy founded by Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balakrishnan, challenging the demand of the Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board (UBB) imposing fees under the provisions of the Fair and Equitable Benefit Sharing (FEBS).

Modi becoming Prime Minister now appears to be an "accident" to the people of India

By Sandeep Pandey*
Anupam Kher's film 'Accidental Prime Minister' has targeted Dr Manmohan Singh who served for two terms and may be again acceptable for the job if his party regains power. But his tormentor Narendra Modi seems to be out of breath even before his first term is over. Disillusionment with him is so widespread and deep that people of India may not bear with him for another term. As the general elections approach again the difference between the two needs to be examined.

Story of a foot soldier of Gujarat riots coming from a vulnerable community, Chharas

By Rajiv Shah
He is one of the more prominent "foot soldiers" of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Suresh Jadeja, alias Langdo, alias Richard, is indeed a well-known name in the Naroda Patiya massacre case, in which 97 persons were killed on February 28, 2002, the first day of the riots that shook the nation. Ordinarily, such a person should have been subjected to sociological scrutiny. What have here is a keen journalistic account, with clear political-ideological overtone.