Champagne corks are popping in Elysee Palace as Nicolas Sarkozy gets a welcome breather in his campaign for getting re-elected to the French Presidency. That India will have to sign a check for 54000 crores to help him along is what concerns me.
The Rafale has trumped the Eurofighter Typhoon, and if it is indeed the better fighter as our Defense sources say then there is nothing at all to be worried about. There is absolutely no gainsaying the fact that the Air Force should get the best MMRCAs we can buy. With the economic upswing over the last decade we can afford that easily.
What troubles Dr. Ramesh Grandhi, a revered and very popular guest at Subho's Jejune Diet and The Curious Hat, is that factors other than pure excellence of the craft ‘might’ have played a role.
The first of these is our aspiration to be a permanent member of the Security Council. It has been no secret that India has long desired this role for itself, and any thinking person would say a country which has a sixth of all humanity within its boundaries automatically deserves this place. But then this is not a fair world, Watson! Did France being a Permanent Member with a Veto influence our decision?
We have read reports of our Migs falling out of the sky rather too regularly for comfort. Our valiant pilots should get the best craft money can buy, they defend our frontiers and airspace and there is no way that they should be shortchanged.
The second factor is the inability of Dassault Aviation to sell even a single plane outside of France. The French Defense Minister is on record as saying that unless Rafale found foreign buyers he would have to scrap the Rafale itself. The fact that more than 10 countries have refused to buy these planes (the Rafale took to the skies 25 years ago) makes one cautious, especially if there are countries like Singapore on that list, countries which have a reputation for probity.
It is to be hoped that French political compulsions had no role to play in this decision. Dassault Aviation would have been forced to shut down the Rafale program and experienced job cutbacks and factory closures had this contract not gone through. News reports suggest that there was “unmitigated relief and joy” at Dassault headquarters. Job losses are not great news for an embattled President, who will derive a lot of political capital from this deal.
Too expensive and too difficult to handle was what all the countries which refused to buy it said after being interested initially. But we hear that price played a role in convincing our authorities to go in for the deal. The fact that the bulk of them will be manufactured in India at the Hindustan Aeronautics facility under transfer of technology must have played a role in the decision. This is welcome news as this will help in our own technological upgradation.
It might be bitterness speaking when sources in the Eurofighter maker, EADS, say that the decision to go in for the Rafale was dictated as much by political concerns as it was by military ones. They maintain that the Typhoon was a much more advanced and modern aircraft.
If indeed the deal has been as transparent as the French President maintains then everyone can rest easy, but unfortunately the ghosts of Bofors, the HDW submarine deal, and even the utterly atrocious coffin deal still haunt us.
AK Antony has an enviable reputation for selfless service, probity and for being incorruptible. I do hope that he has taken the best possible decision keeping the country’s vital interests in view and not for any political compulsions or superpower aspirations.
Rafale in French means a gust, gale or a squall. Can a gust really trump a Typhoon? I hope it did it fairly.