In­dia puts in an or­der for three-dozen Rafale fighter jets from France

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY MAR­I­ANNE BAR­RI­AUX

In­dia’s prime min­is­ter an­nounced Fri­day that New Delhi had or­dered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a multi-bil­lion-euro agree­ment that has been years in the mak­ing.

Stand­ing along­side his coun­ter­part Fran­cois Hol­lande on a visit to France — the first leg of his maiden trip to Europe — Naren­dra Modi fi­nally re­lieved the fran­tic spec­u­la­tion over whether tor­tu­ous, years-long ne­go­ti­a­tions on buy­ing the jets would ever bear fruit.

“I asked the pres­i­dent (Hol­lande) to sup­ply us with 36 Rafale jet fighter planes, the ready-to-fly mod­els,” Modi said at a joint news con­fer­ence at the El­y­see Palace.

While long- blocked ex­clu­sive ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the two sides had ini­tially fo­cused on 126 French Rafales, the 36-jet or­der is man­u­fac­turer Das­sault’s big­gest yet abroad — es­ti­mated to be worth nearly four bil­lion eu­ros (US$4.2 bil­lion).

Paris sold 24 Rafale Egypt ear­lier this year.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions to buy the planes kicked off in 2012 but had been bogged down over cost and New Delhi’s in­sis­tence on as­sem­bling a por­tion of the high-tech planes in In­dia.

De­fense Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian told re­porters af­ter Modi’s an­nounce­ment that all 36 jets would be man­u­fac­tured in France.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions, mean­while, con­tinue on fi­nal­is­ing the ini­tial 126-jet agree­ment.

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Pak­istan, China Threat

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In­dian de­fense an­a­lyst Sau­rabh Joshi said the coun­try’s air force ur­gently needs new jets to up­date its aging fleet in the face of an­tag­o­nis­tic neigh­bors Pak­istan and China.

As such, In­dia has launched a vast de­fense mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram worth some US$100 bil­lion.

Modi, a right-wing Hindu na­tion­al­ist, was ef­fec­tively black­listed by the Euro­pean Union for years, ac­cused of en­cour­ag­ing deadly communal ri­ots in 2002 in the west­ern state of Gu­jarat, which he gov­erned for over a decade.

But af­ter his land­slide victory in a gen­eral elec­tion last year, and with In­dia’s econ­omy now grow­ing faster than even China’s, France is rolling out the red car­pet for the one-time out­cast.

“France has al­ways been a re­li­able sup­plier for In­dia from jet fighters to sub­marines,” Modi said, point­ing to co­op­er­a­tion in a num­ber of sec­tors such as space, nu­clear en­ergy and de­fense.

Hol­lande said he was “deeply moved” by the an­nounce­ments and said they took the part­ner­ship be­tween the two coun­tries “into a new gear.”

French

gi­ant Areva is still await­ing the go- ahead to in­stall six re­ac­tors in In­dia’s west­ern state of Ma­ha­rash­tra, five years af­ter a bi­lat­eral civil nu­clear ac­cord.

Noth­ing was an­nounced on this par­tic­u­lar ac­cord, but In­dia and France signed agree­ments in a raft of other sec­tors such as space and trans­port.

They also dis­cussed co­op­er­a­tion in the fight against ex­trem­ism.

Hol­lande ex­pressed his “in­dig­na­tion” af­ter Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties on Thurs­day freed the al­leged mas­ter­mind of the 2008 Mumbai at­tacks on bail.

Modi made no com­ment on the is­sue.

In­dia has de­scribed the re­lease of Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, ac­cused over the ter­ror siege that left 166 dead, as an “in­sult” to the vic­tims of the three-day on­slaught on its fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal, which was blamed on the banned Pak­istani mil­i­tant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

Hol­lande also thanked the In­dian prime min­is­ter for his “sol­i­dar­ity” over the Is­lamist at­tacks in the French cap­i­tal in Jan­uary which left 17 peo­ple dead.

Af­ter a two-day whis­tle-stop tour that will take him from north­ern to south­ern France — with a short breather to take in the Paris sights from a boat ride on the Seine — Modi will jet off to Ger­many.

He will end his trip fur­ther afield in Canada, home to a large In­dian di­as­pora.

‘Jobs for the young’

Modi is seek­ing to at­tract in­vestors as he tries to re­write In­dia’s rep­u­ta­tion as a tricky place to do busi­ness, be­set by bu­reau­cracy, cor­rup­tion and a strin­gent tax regime.

The gov­ern­ment has al­ready re­laxed rules for for­eign in­vestors, ea­ger to cre­ate work for the mil­lions who en­ter In­dia’s job mar­ket each year.

“Our main chal­lenge is to cre­ate jobs for the young — 800 mil­lion In­di­ans are less than 35 years old,” he told Le Fi­garo daily.

While Modi was quick to meet U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama and Asia’s top lead­ers af­ter his elec­tion last May, it has taken him nearly a year to travel to Europe.

Still, trade be­tween In­dia and the EU as a whole has grown from 28.6 bil­lion eu­ros (US$30.5 bil­lion) in 2003 to 72.7 bil­lion eu­ros in 2013, and both sides are keen for the up­swing to con­tinue.

AP

(Top) French pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, right, toasts with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi dur­ing an of­fi­cial din­ner at the El­y­see Palace in Paris, France on Fri­day, 10 April. (Above) In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, front sec­ond left, French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, cen­ter, De­fense Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian, left, Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo and For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Lau­rent Fabius en­joy a tour on the Seine River, past Notre-Dame Cathe­dral, on a plea­sure boat in Paris on Fri­day.

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