French Rafale Set to Fly High on Indian Skies

With the Supreme Court of India dismissing a review petition seeking court-monitored criminal probe into the Rafale fighter jet deal between the Indian Government and France’s Dassault, aviation decks are now clear for induction of Rafale fighter jets in the Indian Air Force. In a decision with far-reaching consequences, the court has laid to rest the ongoing political smear campaign launched by the former Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his proxies on the theme “Chowkidar Chor Hai” meaning “Security Guard is Thief” against the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The court decision has not only lent a severe blow to the Congress party of India but has also eroded the credibility of the party among the masses.

It may be recalled that the Dassault’s modern jet fighter, Rafale, known for its agility, speed, attack, and weapon holding capacity was selected in the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender in 2012 by the Congress-led UPA Govt. Dassault Rafale was preferred over Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 used by Pakistan Air Force, Sweden’s Saab Gripen, Boeing’s F/A-18, and Russia’s MiG-35.

Military and Political Significance of Rafale

Currently, IAF is handicapped on long-range weapons and sensors vis-a-vis Pakistan Air Force. Rafale will give the Indian Air Force a decisive edge with better sensors and weapons. Each Rafale in the air would require at least two F16s for a counter-challenge. Combined with the S400 air defense system next year, it will significantly enhance the Indian Air Force’s superiority in the region.

The preliminary deal of $12 billion consisted of buying 18 Rafale off the shelf and assembling another 108 Rafale by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Dassault agreed to the deal on the condition of two separate contracts, one for 18 Rafale brought directly from France, while the other for 108 Rafale assembled at HAL. The Indian Government was not ready for two separate contracts; also, the Government wanted a guarantee on the quality of the Rafale fighters assembled at HAL, while Dassault was not prepared for it. The deal was stuck as neither Dassault nor the Indian Government was ready to accept terms.

In the 2014 Indian Parliamentary Elections, the UPA coalition lost to the NDA coalition led by Narendra Modi. On assuming the power to break the standoff, Prime Minister Modi intervened and bought 36 Rafale of worth $7.87 billion in fly-away condition, whose guarantee was wholly accepted by Dassault. The deal was signed in 2016. 

Rahul Gandhi alleged “irregularities” in the Rafale deal in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and launched a vociferous campaign alluding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the corrupt guard (“chowkidar chor hai”). Congress alleged that the Modi government signed the contract with France at a much higher price than negotiated during the UPA rule. Congress and its proxies filed four petitions before the Supreme Court raising questions about the process followed in finalization of the Rafale deal, pricing, as well as the choice of Reliance Defence as the offset partner. In contrast, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) termed the allegation of corruption in Rafale deal as an attempt to tarnish the clean and honest reputation of PM Modi and his government.

The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, Justices KM Joseph, and SK Kaul dismissed the review pleas in a unanimous judgment. The bench observed that the necessity for aircraft has never been in dispute, and they cannot overlook the fact that the contract for aircraft was pending before different governments for quite some time.

Whereas the ruling BJP demanded an apology from the Congress, analysts are of the view that malicious campaigns to derive political mileage vitiate the social and political atmosphere of the nation and ultimately harm the interests of the country. The verdict should be an eye-opener for Rahul Gandhi to ponder over whether he made a mistake by coining the slogan “chowkidar chor hai.”