A new angle has emerged in the on-going Rafale controversy. It is claimed the reason why Rahul Gandhi is so worked up over the deal is due to the denial of the offsets contract, which went to Anil Ambani’s newly floated company, to brother-in-law Robert Vadra’s close business associate, Sanjay Bhandari. Bhandari, who fled the country after the Enforcement Directorate and other agencies launched investigations in his murky dealings, was a Delhi-based fixer. He initially imported fancy cars and sold them to the cash-rich businessmen at very competitive prices.
How he undercut the official price of the same cars imported through the licit channels is one of the lines of investigation. Getting further ambitious following his close proximity to Vadra, Bhandari entered the defence supplies business. Aside from brokering deals with the government, he also floated an offsets company which sought to partner marquee manufacturers of defence equipment. He single-mindedly pursued the Rafale offsets contract but Dassault Aviation would have none of it. It is notable that it was Rahul Gandhi who first spoke of alleged hanky-panky in the Rafale deal. And in spite of his raking it up almost daily, none of the major opposition leaders have lent their voice to his pet campaign so far. Quite clearly, the rest of the Opposition has reservations joining him in a motivated campaign which the ruling party claims he has undertaken at the behest of his controversial brother-in-law. The Vadra-Bhandari link is a public secret. Sometime ago, media reports suggested that the fugitive Bhandari had paid for the expensive interior decoration and furnishing of the flat Vadra owns in a swanky part of London under a ‘benami’ identity. Though the veracity of these reports was hard to be verified, the fact that Bhandari and Vadra were associates, often seen together during the UPA decade, was easily confirmed.
Meanwhile, a section of the media has highlighted yet another hitherto unknown facet of the Rafale offsets contract. It is claimed that initially Dassault negotiated with a company of Mukesh Ambani for the offsets contract, but just when the negotiations were nearing completion, it decided to quit the proposed entry into the offsets business and, instead, got younger brother Anil’s newly-floated company to sign up as the French aircraft maker’s new partner. Yet another reason which reportedly went in favour of Anil was that he had procured a huge plot of land for the defence-related project and it suited Dassault since it was near the Nagpur airport. Bhandari, in sharp contrast, did not have any land far or near an airport, his only USP being his claimed proximity to Vadra. Amidst this welter of charge and counter-charge, it is hard to sift the real facts, but we have no hesitation in saying that in the interest of transparency and accountability, a white paper on the deal ought to be issued by the government.