INDIA. New Delhi. With the arrival of the first batch of Rafale fighter jets, India moved a step ahead in its combat capacity getting an edge over its neighbours like China and Pakistan. Fulfilling its international ambitions, India has been one of the largest weapons and arms importers since 2010. In the last decade, India has strengthened its import ties with countries like the USA, France, and Russia.
According to a report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia was the largest supplier to India till 2014 but its share of total Indian arms imports decreased from 72% to 56 % due to delivery delays. The US secured its place as the second-largest import supplier to India between 2010-2014. Under the Modi-Trump leaderships, security ties between both countries have been strengthened and evolved into a strategic partnership. However, the second half of the decade witnessed a decline in the US’s share of arms imports. From 2015 onwards, imports from the US was around 51% lower than in the period 2010-2014.
To further strengthen the war fleet, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (Indian National Congress) invited international manufacturers to bid for fighter jets in 2007. French manufacturer Dassault Systems put in the lowest bid. Conversations were initiated with the French maker to close the deal for the Rafale fighter jets.
As per the Indo-France intergovernmental agreement, the acquisition of Rafale Fighter Jets was executed in September 2016. India inked a deal with the French government to purchase 36 fighter jets manufactured by Dassault Aviation. The deal was made at a whopping price of 7.87 billion euro. The multibillion-dollar jet deal created controversy in the political corridors of India. The allegations put by the largest national opposition party against Prime Minister Modi caused a political storm in the country. However, the Modi government firmly stood on their statement of not favouring the Indian company involved in the French fighter jet deal.
Potential conflict of interest
The French president Mr Francois Hollande’s stated that the Modi government had pressured the French craft maker Dassault Aviation to get into a partnership with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence. This Indian company was notably incorporated in March 2015 while the discussions were going on with France to seal the Rafale deal.
Hollande also denied having a say in this arrangement and the Rafale deal. His statement ignited a debate in India. Modi’s government responded by referring to India’s “offset policy” to indicate the government’s good intentions.
India’s Defence Offset Policy 2008
India, in 2005, through its Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), announced an official policy to secure offsets for its defence imports. The key objective of the Defence Offset Policy is to leverage capital acquisitions to develop the Indian defence industry by encouraging the development of internationally competitive enterprises. Augmenting capacity for research, design and development related to defence products and services is another key objective of the 2005 policy. Another key aspect of the policy is to foster the development of sectors functioning in collaboration like civil aerospace and internal security.
Amended in 2008, the DPP states that any foreign supplier has to comply with the condition of investing a minimum of 30 % of the total contract value in India.
Arming with the aim of national appeasement
India’s arms import from France increased by 715%, making it the third-largest supplier during 2015-19, but Russia continues to dominate the supply of the Indian armoury. Current geopolitical factors are pushing India to keep enhancing its armoury and also to establish strategic partnerships with countries like Israel and France. With its broader policies to maintain ties with countries like the US and Russia and simultaneously diversifying its warfare portfolio to countries like France, India is certainly marching towards a great power position. The arrival of Rafale fighter jets seems to be boosting citizen’s morale. The Modi government is now sailing on the current hype created around Rafale whereas in the past India has a history of buying some of the best machines like Jaguars from the UK and Mirage 2000s from France.
The rationale behind the current hype over Rafale is as yet unknown, but it appears from the current narrative that the Modi led government is focused on impressing the Gen X voters who will be pleased by the sense of strengthened status of the nation.