Just ahead of his visit to India, French President Emmanuel Macron has given ammunition to the Narendra Modi government to counter the Opposition's charges of irregularities in the Rafale jet deal. In an exclusive interview with India Today Group Editorial Director Raj Chengappa, Macron said the Narendra Modi government bargained well and managed to safeguard India's industrial interests.
"I wasn't part of it, but I have to say the negotiations were a win-win situation for both of us," he said. "A large part of the production will now be in India, so the interests of the industry and workers were very well defended." The French President's three-day visit to India begins on Friday evening. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced in April 2015 that India will buy 36 French-manufactured Rafale multi-role jets off the shelf from aircraft builder and integrator Dassault in a bid to upgrade the military's ageing fleet. The Rafale was chosen in 2012 over rival offers from the United States, Europe and Russia.
The BJP-led government rowed back from the commitment of the previous UPA regime to buy 126 Rafales, saying the twin-engined planes would be too expensive and the deal fell through after nearly decade-long negotiations. PM Modi then intervened and decided to buy 36 ready-to-fly fighters to give the military a near-term boost instead of trying to acquire technology from Dassault and make it in India.
The first Rafales are expected to arrive by 2019 and India is set to have all 36 within six years. The government has said the Air Force and Navy require as many as 400 single-and double-engine combat aircraft. According to the Congress, India under NDA rule is now paying more for the jets to Dassault than the deal negotiated by the UPA government.
The party has alleged the government caused "insurmountable loss" of taxpayers' money in signing the deal for 36 Rafale aircraft for Rs 58,000 crore. Macron's statement assumes significance in the view of continued attack by opposition parties on the deal. Congress president Rahul Gandhi last month alleged that massive corruption happened in the pact and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was personally involved in it.
Macron said when a deal involves extremely sensitive business interests, it is not desirable to give out details. "First of all, you have these commercial agreements, and obviously you have competitors and we can't let them know details of the deal. Secondly, there are some discussions to be organised by the Indian government, and they will have to consider which details they would want to be revealed to the opposition and Parliament," he said in the interview. Macron also said he was very impressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision, "especially his strong commitment to (reversing) climate (change)", and described him as a "very wise man with a personal philosophy and taste for independence".
On the shared concerns of both nations regarding terrorism, the French President said the two countries must increase bilateral cooperation in terms of security, exchange of good practices and information. "One of the threats for you will be the return of jihadis from the Iraq-Syria region. One of the main common interests we have is to cooperate in this area," he said. "They attacked France several times, and they will now decide to go back, take refuge in your region. It's very important to cooperate very concretely, in terms of exchange of intelligence, increase cooperation in counterterrorism."
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