More Rafale yarn, more Rafale yawn

This is getting boring.

Every time some media outlet comes up with a so-called ‘expose’ on the Rafale deal, we get down to reading it in right earnest. But eventually it turns about the proverbial much ado about nothing.

A few weeks ago, The Hindu newspaper, which had done some pioneering investigative journalism in the Bofors scandal back in the late 80s, had something that was supposed to be earth-shatteringly revealing on the Rafale deal. But no amount of parsing of the report could prove anything, least of all there was corruption in the purchase of aircraft. Much print and TV airtime was wasted over precious little.

And today, the same The Hindu is at it. This time around the sum and substance of the allegation is that the while the Ministry of Defence was negotiating for the Rafale aircraft, the PMO was also in talks with France. The report adds that the MoD wrote to the PMO that such parallel talks weaken our position during negotiations.

So?

Well, that’s all to the The Hindu report. It is doesn’t say what was the response of the PMO after the letter from the MoD was received. If the PMO had stopped its talks with France after MoD’s letter, what’s there to complain?

For argument’s sake, even if the PMO had continued its talks, let’s see what would have happened. If you read the The Hindu report,  it claims the PMO was in talks with France, and not with the company.  Also, the ‘talks’, as per the report, was initiated by France. A diplomatic advisor to the French Minister of Defence, on the advice of French President’s office, spoke to a joint secretary in the PMO, the newspaper said.

The point to be noted is: the talks were at the behest of French President’s office. Also, the MoD note to the PMO was not about the price of the Rafale aircraft, but bout general terms and conditions of the deal.

Further, the MoD note’s complaint was more on the lines that the PMO did not seem to have enough confidence in the negotiating team. The note said, “in case the PMO is not confident about the outcome of negotiations being carried out by the MoD, a revised modality of negotiations to be led by PMO at appropriate level may be adopted.”

The MoD, practically, doesn’t see any hanky-panky in the PMO’s ‘intervention’.

Let’s jot this down: First of all, it was not a parallel negotiation. But just talks between French diplomat and a Secretary in PMO, and the talk itself was initiated by the other side. Secondly, the protestations from the MoD was more about keeping negotiations on a single track and turf control, which is pretty common  in bureaucratic circles. Thirdly, there is nothing remotely suggestive of corruption in any of this.

That the Congress wanting to cash in on this is understandable politics. But the media coming up with reports that frankly prove nothing substantive is a crying shame. These kind of reports don’t illuminate. They only add to the confusion.