In the end, the much-awaited report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the Rafale deal was a mixed bag. Trashed by the opposition and activists even before it was tabled in Parliament, the report offered talking points to both sides of the aisle.
It gave the government bragging rights for signing a contract that was a tad cheaper than the offer made by manufacturer Dassault Aviation in 2007, though not as cost effective as what Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman claimed in Parliament last month. It also found the delivery window was expedited by a month as against the previous offer, which is not much. On the downside, while the 2007 proposal included bank guarantees and performance guarantees, they were not part of the current deal and the price differential was not passed on to India.
Also, contrary to the claims of the spin doctors, there was no change in cost of the bare-bones aircraft. Yet the Opposition found little merit in the report since it ignored the offsets, redacted the actual figures in view of the secrecy clause and mentioned them in terms of percentage. And Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the most vocal critic of the Rafale deal, lampooned it as Chowkidar Auditor General.
Name-calling aside, there has been grudging acknowledgement from neutral observers of the CAG’s sharp analysis on the needless delays in the IAF’s procurement process. The top auditor had drawn critical attention after a paragraph of the Supreme Court verdict on the Rafale deal in December had erroneously claimed the CAG had seen the pricing and shared its findings with a Parliamentary panel, as the top auditor hadn’t filed his report by then. While the Centre filed a correction application and the PIL warriors filed a review petition, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi added a googly on Friday, saying the petitions were defective.
While Rahul keeps flogging the Rafale deal, unlike Bofors there is nothing yet to suggest a smoking gun in the form of a dirty money trail. Would it then find resonance in the Lok Sabha elections is the billion-dollar question.