In the narrative of the Congress Party with regard to l’affaire Rafale, there are some interesting similarities with the Bofors controversy. Both issues were first raised by The Hindu. Both issues in The Hindu were anchored by N Ram. Both issues are designed to unseat the incumbent party running the government. Both targeted the Prime Minister’s Office directly. Both issues had the ministry pitted against the PMO.
The difference is just one – while in the Bofors, The Hindu claimed that the Gandhi family personally benefited, in the current case of the Rafale deal, there is no such claim. The Hindu claims that around Euros 246.11 million were paid extra by the current government, which works out around Euro 1.95 million per fighter jet. And that’s about it.
For the Congress spokesperson and the president to therefore claim that ‘chowkidar chor hai’ is quite silly. There is no ‘scam’, The Hindu has not alleged (till now) that kickbacks were involved, nor has anyone else come close to alleging corruption.
So why is the Congress indulging in an accusation that is downright false?
The answer probably lies in the pre-Balakot analysis of the party that the government was vulnerable to such baseless rhetoric and that a lie, shouted a thousand time, will become a half-truth, aided and abetted by a media which is at best lazy, for it shuns data analysis, or at worst simply partisan.
The thought at that time, emerging from 10 Janpath, was that ‘we will do a Bofors on you’. Thus, the Congress party, led by its President RaGa, gave clear directions to all the spokespersons to chant ‘Chowkidar chor hai’.
The net result before the Balakot strikes were along the expectant lines — the TV anchors picked it up, the panelists were shouting themselves hoarse and were easily outdone by the anchor himself/herself. WhatsApp groups had self-styled ‘informed’ members who had ‘inside information’. Twitter-verse, as usual, was toxic, and there was general mayhem. The Congress party was happy — mission accomplished.
Then the Indian Air Force decided to strike Balakot. And the entire scenario shifted. The focus was back on our strikes, our capability, our ageing MiGs and our military might. Prime Minister Modi added to the narrative saying that ‘had the Rafale been there, things would have been very different’. And suddenly, the average Indian, the nationalist-chest-thumping-armchair warrior, became a fan of new armory.
And the Congress’ main slogan collapsed.
Today, everyone in India (except those office bearers of Congress) wants the Rafale fighters yesterday. Nobody gives a damn if we paid Euro 2 million extra for each fighter. Since there has been no allegation of ‘personal’ gain by anyone in the PMO, the question, if any arises, will be — is 2 million euros extra per fighter really worth all the noise? The answer will be an unequivocal ‘no’.
The Hindu will continue to feed the Rafale issue. It is a newspaper, and has the mandate to do so. It may continue to report process failures, hijacked decisions, and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) superseded by an arrogant PMO. The readers of The Hindu will read and debate, distribute and even decry the misdeeds of the decision makers. For want of another story, some WhatsApp groups may even forward these stories and discuss them.
But for the common man and the bulk of the voters, Rafale is a good deal, and by opposing it, the Congress is opposing those who want national security.
The logic doesn’t make sense, right? Welcome to Indian electoral politics.
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