The dogfight over the purchase of 36 Rafale planes currently dominating public discourse in the country reminds me of the dictum, ‘Don’t confuse me with facts’. National leaders are calling each other thieves, liars, traitors and, of course, corrupt. Even Pakistan and the current and a former president of France have been dragged into the imbroglio. The two national parties seem to be like two blindfolded boxers punching in the air hoping to land a knockout punch. A lot of half-truths are flying around, with facts becoming the biggest casualty. In the eye of the storm is industrialist Anil Ambani.

The controversy is centred around the Rs 30,000 crore ‘offsets’ that Dassault and its associates have to spend with Indian manufacturers not necessarily related to the Rafale aircraft as part of the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal. The allegation is that the younger Ambani’s joint venture with Dassault has been favoured with all of the Rs 30,000 crore because of his perceived proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The suggestion that his company is getting all of it is not true. There are 72 companies that have been identified by the French industrial partners in the deal- Safran, Thales, Dassault Aviation- for the offset. Ambani is likely to get a decent share, but the biggest beneficiary will be the government organisation DRDO, or the Defence Research and Development Organisation, with an estimated Rs 9,000 crore.

The other big issue is that Ambani has no track record in defence manufacturing and has several failed ventures attached to his name. Most of his group companies are in poor financial health and laden with a debt of Rs 1.12 lakh crore as of March 2018.

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