Rafale deal: BJP fires 'Eurofighter missile' at Congress

Eurofighter rep A Eurofighter Typhoon | Eurofighter website

Nearly seven years after the Indian Air Force announced the Dassault Rafale was the lowest bidder for a deal for 126 fighter aircraft, the French jet's main rival, the Eurofighter Typhoon, is back in the news in India.

By 8.30am on Monday, #Eurofighter was among the top trends on Twitter in India. The renewed interest came after India Today reported that alleged AgustaWestland scam middleman Christian Michel was also lobbying for the Eurofighter to win the same deal for 126 jets.

The publication reported that Michel and an associate had prepared a 'strategy paper' to reach out to an influential 'political navigator' and Indian Air Force officials. The publication added that the 'strategy paper' had been prepared in 2008 for the company manufacturing the Eurofighter.

Following the report, a number of senior BJP leaders tweeted that the Congress's opposition to the Narendra Modi government's deal to cancel negotiations for the 126 fighters and buy 36 Rafale fighters was prompted by its links to Michel. Information and Broadcasting Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Minister of State for Power R.K. Singh tweeted the India Today report.

Amit Malviya, the head of the BJP's IT operations, tweeted, “Middlemen accused of getting kickbacks in the Agusta deal, including Michel, were strategising for Rafale's competitor Eurofighter. Is Rahul Gandhi speaking against Rafale because Eurofighter, handled by ‘Michel Mama’, was more amenable to giving bribe?”

During his reply on a debate on the Rafale deal on January 2, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had 'hinted' at the Congress's interest in promoting the Eurofighter at the expense of the Rafale. When some Congress MPs threw paper planes in the direction of Jaitley during his speech, he claimed, “I think these paper planes are being floated in the memory of Eurofighter.”

In August last year, The Print reported that the manufacturer of the Eurofighter had made a revised offer to sell 126 fighters to India, with the price per aircraft being about Rs 450 crore cheaper than what the Modi government negotiated for the 36 Rafale jets.

The Congress had previously questioned the Modi government on why the revised offer for the Eurofighter was not considered before the deal for 36 Rafales was finalised. Congress communications in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala had tweeted in February claiming an offer from Eurofighter to reduce prices by 20 per cent was made to Arun Jaitley when he was defence minister in July 2014.

The Eurofighter and the Rafale, actually, had common origins in the 1980s with five nations—France, UK, Germany, Italy and Spain—cooperating to build a new European fighter. However, France left the consortium following disputes over industrial participation and design specifications such as its requirement for a naval variant.

Interestingly, the BJP's latest allegations against the Congress on the Rafale versus Eurofighter issue effectively 'contradict' claims made by party MP Subramanian Swamy when Dassault was declared as the lowest bidder in 2012. Swamy had claimed India selected the Rafale on the basis of private conversations between then Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Carla Bruni, the wife of then French president Nicholas Sarkozy. Both women have Italian origins.

Swamy continued the allegations about the Rafale even after he joined the BJP in 2013, tweeting in 2014, “If Govt clears Rafael deal then it is a classic PIL matter because the alternatives jets are cheaper. But Carla Bruni TDK swung the deal.” TDK is the term Swamy uses on Twitter for Sonia Gandhi.