There is hope in New Delhi that everything will be sealed and signed this autumn, but protracted negotiations, especially over costing could be unhelpful as various lobbies are at work.

news Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 05:30

Chitra Subramaniam| The News Minute| June 29, 2014| 6.00 pm IST

There will be toasts and tributes, pomp and perhaps even some glory. But what will be the story or rather, what will be on the menu when French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj sit down to talk?

Three issues will be on the cards – the multi-billion dollar Rafale combat aircraft, the Jaitapur nuclear power plant and climate change. Not much more can be attempted in a 48-hour visit with a government that is just about that many days old and still learning the ropes. On Monday, India’s PSLV rocket will launch a French satellite from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, the second time that India is doing so. 

But all eyes and ears will be riveted on how fast or slowly the two countries will move to ink the contract to buy 126 Rafale medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) as a test of the new government’s resolve to secure India’s seas, skies and grounds. The French fighter plane was selected by India some two years ago and negotiations between the Defence Ministry and Dassault Aviation which makes the planes have been tripping over pricing and work-sharing between the two sides. 

“The biggest beneficiary of the new decisiveness would be the Air Force, struggling to maintain its traditional conventional edge against Pakistan,” noted defence correspondent Nitin Gokhale has written in his blog. During an extensive briefing at the Air HQ “an apparently concerned (Jaitley) had just one question to ask: how much money would be required once the contract is signed. The IAF’s answer: Rs 100,000 crores spread over 10 years immediately evoked a positive reaction from Jaitley,” writes Gohkale.” Read the blog here. 

There is hope in New Delhi that everything will be sealed and signed this autumn, but protracted negotiations, especially over costing could be unhelpful as various lobbies are at work. A senior European analyst who closely watches this segment told The News Minute (TNM) the word in the market is that fighter deal with France is going nowhere. He went so far as to suggest that according to some “France has missed the opportunity and the Rafale deal will most likely fade away.” 

“The high cost of the Rafale and India’s current push towards indigenization are important factors that will kick in at this moment,” the analyst said adding, “India may decide to go with their local single engine fighter and enter into a deal to upgrade their MIGs.” The single engine fighter is a reference to the HAL-made Light Combat Aircraft (LCS) Tejas which is a favourite with some groups who are pushing for its early induction. Tejas has been on the cards for some years now. 

As the two countries discuss the Rafale, feathers will most likely be ruffled as New Delhi and Paris discuss the Jaitapur nuclear power project under which France is expected to install six nuclear power plants. The issue of India’s civil nuclear liability law – which transfers the onus to the supplier in case of a mishap – will also be discussed. Nuclear power is the primary source of energy in France. 

This track is also being watched closely as in recent years, India has moved close to the United States without receiving much in return. While Washington spoke eloquently about the Asian pivot, India was neither consulted nor included in any of talks between the US, the Philippines, Japan and Australia. Indo-French cooperation in this sector will up the ante in many capitals and markets around the world. 

Fabius, former Prime Minister of France with ambitions of returning his job at the first opportunity will not be looking to return home empty handed. Called gauche caviar or a limousine liberal in a country of 60 million people where unemployment has crossed the double-digit mark, Fabius comes from a wealthy family of antique dealers and is variously seen as intelligent and ruthless. 

He also regularly puts his foot in his mouth. The most famous auto-goal was when he announced that Francois Hollande will never become the President of France, a remark that was shot down across the board for being arrogant an elitst.

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