NEW DELHI: After waiting for over two years to ink the mega deal with India for the supply of 126 Rafale combat jets worth around Rs 1 lakh crore, France has now pinned its hopes on the quick decision-making culture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clinch the lucrative contract at the earliest.
Even as he sounded confident of a “final outcome” in the Rafale deal,visiting French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday gave an unusually strong response to the delay encountered in the defence deals. However, he expressed the hope that the new Indian government with its “notion of efficiency in administration” will implement the decisions already taken.
“It is true that some elements have taken too long. It is only fair that complex matters take some time, but there is a difference between some time and too long,” Fabius told reporters, in an unusually strong words for a foreign dignitary pitching for a defence deal.
He was replying to a question whether Paris had been concerned about the alleged policy paralysis, which had plagued the previous UPA Government, that delayed the decision-making process. Fabius, who arrived here on a four-day state visit late on Sunday,held formal delegation-level talks with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj on Monday. According to him, Franco-Indian ties can be summarised in two words– “trust and partnership”.
The French leader, who is the first Foreign Minister from the West to visit the country after the NDA came to power, said there were “examples” of such delays, where decisions had been taken but not implemented.
“We should be seeing, with a new government, which is particularly keen on efficiency, the implementation of administrative decisions which had been taken... With a new government in power, we shall also see how to rapidly implement the decisions that have already been taken and I will discuss that... with the Prime Minister, as well,” he said, speaking in English. Later, he called on Union Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley. But the meeting, interestingly, took place in North Block from where the Ministry of Finance functions and not in South Block, where the Ministry of Defence(MoD)is housed.
The meeting was described as a courtesy call by the MoD officials present. But the strong words from the French leader and the lukewarm response from the MoD triggered speculation that Narendra Modi Government could have a rethink on rushing through the selection of Rafale, done by the UPA Government, to explore all the options at hand.
Rafale had beaten competition from Europe and the US -- Eurocopter Typhoon, MiG-35, Gripen, F-16 and F/A-18 -- to emerge the winner of the August 2007 tender in April 2012.
On the Rafale deal, Fabius expressed confidence about the outcome of the talks.
“The discussion is developing in a very positive way and we are very confident about the final outcome,” he said.
“After all, India wants equipment of highest order to ensure independence. Stemming from this contract, large contracts in this domain can be developed in the future. There had been a competition and Rafale had been selected. But some details have to be worked out which is normal,” he said.
The IAF needs the 126 combat planes, classified as medium multirole combat aircraft, to improve its depleting fighter squadron strength and to replace the ageing Soviet-origin 1960s vintage MiG-21, now in the process of phase out before 2017.