'Rahul is only making a pathetic public spectacle of his lack of judgment and good sense by hallucinating that somehow, the Congress, or whatever political combine is cobbled together, will displace the BJP at the coming Lok Sabha election by constantly harping on the Rafale deal,' argues retired civil servant B S Raghavan.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has never had it so good.
It has hit the jackpot with the Congress President, Rahul Gandhi himself, no less, working assiduously and untiringly for Narendra Damodardas Modi's triumphant second term with an increased majority in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
In 2014, Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee also worked hard for Modi, but not as much as Rahul.
Sonia, by calling Modi the 'merchant of death' and Mamata, by characterising him as 'a donkey' ensured that the BJP was installed with a majority on its own for the first time ever in three decades, putting an end to the chaotic coalition era.
Cho Ramaswamy, the editor of Tughlaq, before a huge gathering on the occasion of his annual communion with the weekly's readers, to which he had invited Modi, held the audience in splits by playing on Sonia's title, elaborating how Sonia was dead right and how Modi was truly the 'merchant of death' to loot, plunder, corruption, venality, incompetence, indiscipline and a host of other ills and evils afflicting the Indian polity.
This time, a few others have joined Rahul who has repeatedly called Modi a ''chor' (thief) and are lending him a helping hand.
Shashi Tharoor has called Modi a 'scorpion on a Shivling', claiming he got it from an unknown RSS source.
Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister and Telugu Desam leader Yanamada Ramakrishnudu upped the ante by describing Modi as 'an anaconda swallowing institutions'.
Mamata, Mayawati, Nara Chandrababu Naidu and those of their ilk are yet to get into the act.
If all of them pull together in the same vein, Modi's majority may even soar to greater heights.
Rahul himself is pitching for a record-breaking performance by hitting Modi the hardest of all, by holding the wrong end of the stick.
He has got hooked to the Rafale deal and is flogging it day in and day out in a way that borders on some mania.
A surer non-starter of a non-issue cannot be imagined.
For one thing, no other political party or leader, has joined him, except perhaps Sharad Pawar and that too once, and in a fleeting fashion.
Which means that all those other parties and their leaders, knowing their onions, have come to the conclusion that there isn't much political or electoral juice to be squeezed out of it.
For another, Rahul has been unable to substantiate with solid evidence any of his charges against Modi and the government on aspects of the deal, such as the exorbitant price; the forced choice of Reliance Defence as one of Dassault Aviation's many offset partners, Anil Ambani thereby benefiting, thanks to Modi, to the extent of Rs 30,000 crores; and Reliance Defence being paid an initial kickback of Rs 284 crore as a first tranche with more to come.
Eric Trappier, the CEO of Dassault Aviation, has categorically denied all allegations of corruption, crony capitalism and inflated profits on the deal which predates Modi as well as then French president Francois Hollande. According to him, Dassault had been in discussions with the 'Ambani family' since 2012.
'We stick to the laws of France and laws of India and the law of the contract,'/ Trappier said.
'We are totally against corruption. If there is any investigation in France or India, we are not only open to the investigation, [but] it is our duty [to respond]. We will prove there is no corruption.'
He also rejected the contention that the Indian side had nudged him to give the offsets to Anil Ambani's Reliance Group.
'It has been a long time since we are discussing with Reliance,' said the CEO, referring to an agreement Dassault inked with the Mukesh Ambani group to discharge offsets as part of an earlier deal for 126 jets that was being negotiated with the previous UPA regime.
Trappier claimed that India had got a better deal for the 36 jets in 2016 compared to what it would have paid for the 18 that the previous government was pursuing as part of the 126-jet deal.
'Compared to the same price, India brought down the cost by 9 percent', Trappier said, adding that Reliance Defence will get only Rs 850 crore worth of offsets, not Rs 30,000 crore.
As regards Rahul's charge of Dassault Aviation paying the 'first tranche of kickbacks' of Rs 284 crore to Anil Ambani, in a hard-hitting rejoinder, Reliance Defence, has described it as a 'shameful and deplorable' falsehood.
Based on such study as I have made of the deal from material in the public domain and drawing on my own experience of negotiating such international agreements, I see nothing suspicious.
It is a government-to-government deal, and France has strict laws, as per UN requirement, against any surreptitious kickbacks and handouts.
It is a hard State and sternly enforces its laws.
Both Dassault's Managing Director Eric Trappier and Reliance Defence Chairman Anil Ambani have strongly and convincingly refuted Rahul's outlandish statements.
In any case, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the allegation that Modi brought about the deal to line Ambani's pocket.
Thus, other than some clapping by his own cheerleaders at meetings addressed by him, the issue has left the people cold.
The media too, which gave it a run initially, has moved on.
Rahul is only making a pathetic public spectacle of his lack of judgment and good sense by hallucinating that somehow, the Congress, or whatever political combine is cobbled together, will displace the BJP at the coming Lok Sabha election by constantly harping on the Rafale deal.
It may well be that a large section of the Indian electorate is unlettered and unversed in finer points of governance.
But it has shown repeatedly that it has a will of its own, unshaken by all the disputations of the intellectuals among themselves.
Also, it applies its own independent criteria and forms its own independent judgment of persons, parties and public policies.
K Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu in 1967, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004, Indira Gandhi in 1977 and Sonia Gandhi in 2014 learnt it the hard way.
In my judgment, as a dispassionate observer of the national scene, in 2019 too, the people are going to summon their native wisdom, honed for millennia, to bear on Modi's performance in office.
To them what matters most is the consolation of knowing that the leader has genuine concern for their plight and an awareness of their needs and aspirations, and is earnest in his effort to help them better their lot and has the desire and ability to move forward and fast, making up for all the past neglect.
They are going to judge him on criteria such as the ability to go to the root of a problem and knowing where the shoe pinches, his earnestness, determined effort to deliver, courage in decision-making to that end, commitment to public welfare and the nation's good, kindling a sense of self-pride and bolstering national pride and raising India's stock in their own eyes and in those of other nations, and the capacity to run the government as a disciplined team.
They note that whoever has seen Modi in action -- heads of States and governments, hard-nosed honchos of business and industry, political, economic, financial and public affairs analysts heading think-tanks, the commentariat of the media and India-watchers in general of other countries -- have paid high tributes to the way Modi is devoting himself to his mission.
They are not going to take the measure of him on the yardsticks of what agitates the elitist, English-educated, intellectuals most of whom are completely out of sync with the mood of the man in the street, the farmer, the village artisan and schoolmaster and the average home maker, sprawling themselves on topics such as demonetisation, GST, NPA, relations with the RBI, swallowing of institutions and the like.
If anything, debates on these topics will seem sterile and puerile to the average voter, before specific and tangible goals set by Modi for himself, his government and the nation such as the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, Ayushman Bharat, the Jan Dhan Yojana, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Make in India, Start-up India, Digital India and Smart Cities.
(S)he has the inborn intelligence to understand that they cannot yield results for the asking in a country of such size, complexity and diversity, but that they should be given time to show results.
In my opinion, and this is also patent from the opinion polls held so far, the generality of the people think that Modi makes the grade in all these respects and continuity of his leadership is imperative for maintaining the tempo of executing these schemes and taking them to fruition.
Flowing out of these basic postulates, I am convinced that the outcome of the 2019 election -- the return of Modi and BJP with a significantly increased majority -- is a foregone conclusion.
B S Raghavan, retired member of the Indian Administrative Service, was secretary of the National Integration Council during the prime ministerships of Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi.