Rafale row: Nirmala to hold talks with Dassault

Rafale row: Nirmala to hold talks with Dassault

Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Amidst the political slugfest on the Rafale deal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Wednesday flew to France to have a discussion with the aircraft's manufacturer Dassault Aviation.

Besides having delegation-level talks with her French counterpart Florence Parly to advance strategic cooperation between the two countries, visiting a Dassault manufacturing plant and discussions with senior executives of the company are on the agenda of the defence minister, sources told DH.

The three-day visit was originally planned in September but deferred at the last moment. The cancellation happened at a time when principal Opposition party Congress was firing on all cylinders against the BJP-led NDA government alleging corruption in the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal signed between India and France to buy 36 fighter jets for the IAF.

Sitharaman's France visit comes weeks after then IAF deputy chief air marshal Raghunath Nambiar flew the first Rafale aircraft made for India. The first aircraft was also a test-bed to check out the India-specific upgrades that would be integrated into the aircraft.

IAF's first Rafale is expected in 2019 and the delivery of all the 36 would be completed by 2022. The two squadrons of the Rafale would be hosted at Ambala in Punjab and Hashimara in West Bengal.

With the Rs 59,000 crore deal in its pocket, the French aviation giant has evinced interest in two Indian military aircraft programme – purchase of another 114 fighter jets for the IAF and buying 57 carrier-borne version of the aircraft for the Navy. The company responded to the request for information in both cases.

The controversy on the Rafale deal took a new turn last month when former French president Francois Hollande claimed that France had little choice in picking up Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence as offset partner as India pushed for the company.

Since then France and India issued statements denying the claims made by Hollande and sticking to their stated position of government-having-no-role-in-the-selection argument. Even Hollande gave a second statement, diluting what he claimed first, but these statements failed to quell the political heat.