The first deal to buy 126 Rafale fighter jet from France’s Dassault Aviation was negotiated in 2012, but never finalised. In 2016, the decisive Narendra Modi signed a smaller deal, this time with the French government, for 36 aircraft in “flyaway condition”, to be delivered between end-2019 and early 2022. By 2017, questions were being asked. How much was the deal involving far fewer aircraft worth? Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman declined to specify, citing a confidentiality clause. Then came a Parliamentary reply: Each Rafale cost Rs 67 million. From here, the problem escalated into 2018. By one estimate, the India-specific enhancements took the actual price to double what the Congress claimed to have negotiated. Whiffs of corruption swirled, fanned by Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Cabinet, it seemed, had been bypassed by Modi. An offset deal with Hindustan Aeronautics was scrapped in favour of an Anil Ambani-owned subsidiary, allegedly following a sweetheart movie deal with the then French president Francois Hollande’s girlfriend (denied by both parties). Eventually, former Union ministers Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha with lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan moved the Supreme Court for a probe. The apex court, now under Chief Justice Gogoi — one of the “rebel judges” of January — delivered a puzzling judgment in December. Apart from glaring errors, such as a reference to a non-existent audit report, the court admitted lack of expertise to examine pricing and offset clauses. All the same, it concluded that there was no wrongdoing, which the government is flaunting as a clean chit. But with the regime on the back foot after the state elections, the Opposition won’t let the issue rest.