Rafale price clouds India-France ties

Thirteen agreements, including an inter-governmental agreement on purchase of the Rafale combat aircraft were signed during French President François Hollande’s visit to New Delhi. This is heartening as it signals deepening Indo-French co-operation. However, all the bilateral bonhomie on display could not hide the deep disappointment triggered by the failure of the two sides to wrap up the Rafale deal. Almost a decade after India issued a tender for purchase of medium multi-role combat aircraft and four years after it zeroed in on Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighters to sharpen the teeth of the Indian Air Force, a final deal remains elusive. Differences persist over the price of the aircraft and the quantum of offsets that Dassault’s Indian partner will discharge. That the two sides are still unable to break the deadlock over pricing issues does not augur for the future of the Indo-French partnership. The health of bilateral co-operation is determined not just by the number of agreements signed by the two sides but the willingness of the two sides to reach compromise quickly. Inordinate delays in sealing defence deals are unacceptable as it lays bare holes in the country’s security preparedness.

Civilian nuclear co-operation received a shot in the arm during Hollande’s visit with the two sides agree-ing to build six, instead of two, nuclear reactors at Jaitapur. Negotiations towards an agreement must be initiated immediately and hope-fully these will not be clouded by the endless haggling that has slowed bilateral defence deals.
The decision to work together at Jaitapur was made in 2008 and has got mired in cost and other issues since. This deal, too, needs to get out of the haggling rut. France has been a strong supporter of India’s nuclear programme. It was the first country to establish a strategic partnership with India following the 1998 nuclear tests and enter into civilian nuclear co-operation with it after Delhi was granted the NSG waiver. Paris backs India’s candidacy to the NSG too. This support is appreciated in India but it needs to become visible through implementation of agreements.

Counter-terrorism co-operation was discussed during Hollande’s visit. While both countries have suffered terrorist attacks, there are limits to co-operation in this area as the underlying problems are different. Attacks in France are rooted in France’s colonial history, its brutal role in wars in Asia and Africa, and the deep Islamophobia that defines its approach to migrants and minorities. Drawing ideas from France’s heavily militarised counter-terrorism approach would be disastrous for a plural society like India.

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