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Agreements on 26 marine Rafale fighter jets and three Scorpene submarines were anticipated to rank right up there in the talking points about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent trip to France if major decisions to purchase Predator drones and the manufacture of GE jet aircraft engines in India had been the highlights of his visit to the US in January. The Defence Acquisition Council did the legwork by approving ‘acceptance of necessity’ for the Rafales and Scorpene a day before the Bastille Day parade in Paris, for which Modi was the prime guest, just as it had done before the US visit. Why, So were they not included in the final agreements? In answer to questions from the media, foreign secretary Vijay Mohan Kwatra cryptically stated, “The parameters of defence alliance are not determined by a single acquisition or non-acquisition, a single procurement or transaction.

But a day later, Dassault Aviation, the Rafales’ manufacturer, provided confirmation. According to a statement from Dassault, “the Indian Government announced the selection of the Navy Rafale to equip the Indian Navy with a latest-generation fighter.” It was also mentioned that the 36 Rafales already in Indian service would eventually be joined by the 26 Rafale-Ms. Additionally, the Scorpenes were included in a draught of the accords that was uploaded on the website of the foreign ministry but were excluded from the final form.

Going silent on such significant purchases was quite unusual for a government that enjoys claiming credit for every advancement. Although there are many theories about why it happened, it was probably done to keep the Rafale-Ms out of the political scuffle in the months leading up to the general elections, which are less than a year away. The Rafale-Ms and Scorpenes are expected to cost roughly Rs 80,000 crore. The country’s security may benefit from such large-scale spending, but votes are not always won with them. Additionally, Rafales was charged with major wrongdoing during the previous

general elections, but it was unable to prove the accusations. After the MQ-9B Predator agreement, the Congress attempted to create a stir by alleging it was excessively expensive even though the final price was still being discussed.

Given that France is the final beneficiary of the agreements, one can expect it to maintain its independence. For at least 25 years, it has been India’s dependable ally, standing by it when sanctions were imposed on it as a result of the Pokhran-2 nuclear bomb tests. In bilateral agreements, it should be given the same weight as the US.

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