Analysts say that political controversy surrounding the Rafale jet deal is impacting India’s “defense preparedness” as the country enters full election mode.
They are referring to accusations hurled at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for purchasing the multi-billion dollar French warplanes at a three time higher price than what had been negotiated in 2014, when the main opposition Congress party was in power.
The Congress is also alleging Modi of favoring billionaire Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group while choosing a domestic partner for Dassault Aviation — the French aircraft manufacturer.
“The present political controversy over Rafale contract is unfortunate as it has direct bearing on India’s defense preparedness,” said Sameer Patil, a director at Mumbai-based Gateway House think tank.
“Without acquisition of Rafale and other medium multi-role combat aircraft, it will be difficult for India to keep pace with the evolving security threats, particularly one posed by China, whose air force has undergone massive modernization in the last few years.
“It can also affect India’s ties with France, the most proactive European defence partner for New Delhi,” he added.
Patil went on to say that in light of the aging and shrinking fleet of the air force, the fourth generation Rafale warplane will fill the requirement for an advanced jet.
PK Barbora, a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force, said the political controversy is disturbing.
“Indian Air Force is short of squadrons. The depletion started in the 90s and it has now come to a very critical stage to around 31 squadrons…to add to this we had the famous Rafale deal.
“We have now been witnessing there is political interference which is very disturbing. Our focus now should be to add these jets as soon as possible to the inventory because it is a matter of national security,” he said.
Congress spokeswoman Kushboo Sundar told Anadolu Agency that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot deny corruption.
“A particular company has been benefited in the deal and this is not acceptable. They need to give an answer. The reports which have come out in the press [regarding the deal] recently raise lot of questions. They have to answer because there is no transparency in the deal,” she said.
The BJP denies the allegation, maintaining that the issue is being raised ahead of the general elections to defame the party.
“They [Congress] feel that this became an agenda issue for the 2019 elections that is why they are doing. The country needs Rafale jets for the matter of national security,” said BJP spokesman Syed Zafar Islam.
Last week, the Indian government came under severe criticism after a top government lawyer told the Supreme Court that documents linked to the deal published by a top English daily were “stolen” from the Defense Ministry.
Attorney General KK Venugopal later clarified he meant that classified documents had been photocopied.
Editors across India condemned the comment saying they were perturbed by threats from the government that action would be taken against journalists who used the documents.
“Whatever happened last week, it is certainly an attack on freedom of press. …you can’t force any journalist to reveal the sources,” senior Indian journalist Urmilesh Singh told Anandolu Agency.
The importance of modern jets for the Indian Air Force also came into light after arch-rival Pakistan claimed last month it had downed India’s Cold War-era MIG 21 aircraft and captured its pilot, who has since been released.