New Delhi, Feb 15 (IANS) It is no surprise that Europe becomes a fiery battleground every time a big aerospace deal is floated — as happened when the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition was announced by the Indian Air Force in 2007. The French company Dassault Aviation is to deliver 36 fully-loaded Rafale fighters to India. However, Airbus Industrie, which manufactures the Eurofighter, has pitched itself in the game and wants to have a share of the pie through the ‘Make in India’ programme.
Meanwhile, Sweden’s Saab, which manufactures the Gripen and had been an initial favourite before being edged out by the French companies, believes it can still stay in the hunt if it finds an entry through the ‘Make in India’ programme. And then there are the Russians. It is a high-stakes game that is also complicated.
For some, there is also an interest in keeping things complicated. Mahmut Turker, a Turkish-origin former German politician and a member of Germany’s Freedom Democratic Party, has met Congress President Rahul Gandhi and other critics of the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi to make out a case for Airbus — he is now its sales director, Combat Aircraft Campaigns.
Turker provided the raw material to prepare Rahul Gandhi for the charge against the Modi government. He first met the Congress President in Hamburg in September last year. Then, in tandem with controversial arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, he helped to prepare the strategy for the attack on the government for the Rafale purchases. Congress leaders evidently believe they are onto something, which is why they have gone beyond characteristic political bluster to directly target the Prime Minister.
Later, when Turker met Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha, lawyer Prashant Bhushan — who are behind the PIL in the Rafale case — and Congressman Ranjeet Surjewala, he brought his savvy political skills along to drive holes into the Rafale deal and suggest that it be scrapped. He is believed to have supplied them with dossiers on Rafale to burnish his argument.
There is a back story to this. During the MMRCA negotiations, Airbus/BAE which makes the Eurofighter had lost out to Rafale. The government has said that the earlier deal with Rafale during UPA rule was based on L1 or lowest bidder criterion and the new one for 36 fully-loaded fighters has different specs and there can be no equivalence between them. However, it considers itself to be still in the race for a fighter jet contract, which is why, apart from trying to getting Turker to use the more circuitous route to scupper the deal by providing cue notes to well-placed dissidents, Airbus/BAE sent proposals to the government highlighting why the Rafale deal is bad.
Meanwhile, Turker decided to cast the net wider. He met retired Indian Air Force officials, people with credibility in the system who could help his company, or failing that at least beat down Dassault’s case. He is also believed to have met IAS officer Rajeev Verma, who wrote a dissenting note on the Rafale deal as a member of the contract negotiation committee. There is no evidence that the note helped Airbus/BAE but it certainly did not help Verma. His career took a tumble thereafter.
Could the Congress party be pinning its entire strategy on the basis of inputs from a recently-met aerospace company official and a controversial arms dealer? The game gets bigger, more complicated, as it progresses. Indeed, it mirrors Indian politics where there are no permanent enemies. Enter, the son-in-law of a Modi acolyte who is with BAE.
Using old connections with the Gandhis, this man with deep links in the government has reportedly been able to provide a gist of what the naysayers in officialdom have to say of the Rafale purchase. That has added to the Congress party’s ammo against the government.
Then, the head of a private bank, who is also a key figure in BAE, is working in tandem with a prominent Congress politician in Mumbai. This too is about providing documents and information on the fighter jet deal. For the record, the Congress politician who is known to accompany the Congress President on foreign trips, had earlier been a key figure in an all-party young MPs forum that would meet regularly to identify issues on which they could work together beyond partisan divisions.
The Congress is playing the perception game and believes that the pushback on corruption is happening and the wheels of fortune have altered since 2014.