Why French fighter aircraft are at the centre of an Indian poll storm

NEW DELHI (DataLEADS/ANN) - The multi-billion-dollar Rafale fighter jets deal between India and France has become the most controversial political issue for Indian Prime Minister Narender Modi.

It was in 2007 when the Indian government cleared a proposal of Indian Airforce to buy a fleet of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). The contenders for the mega deal were Lockheed Martin's F-16s, Eurofighter Typhoon, Russia's MiG-35, Sweden's Gripen, Boeing's F/A-18s and Dassault Aviation's Rafale.

Bids were opened and Dassault emerged as the lowest bidder. 

The original proposal by the Indian government stated that 18 planes had to be manufactured in France whereas 108 in India in collaboration with the  state-owned aerospace and defence company Hindustan Aeronautics.  

The negotiation between the two governments went on but a deal could not be reached till 2014 when the Congress government’s term ended and the NDA came to power headed by Narender Modi.

In 2015 Narender Modi visits  France and signed a deal with the French government to procure 36 Rafael jets. Subsequently Indian billionaire Anil Ambani owned Reliance Defence Limited and France's Dassault Aviation announced a joint venture. Dassault mandated to make compensation investments (offsets) in India worth 50% of the value of the purchase.

Allegations and controversy

The opposition accused the government of irregularities on two fronts: one that the jets were being procured on higher rate and second Reliance Defence Limited was favoured by the government as the local partner instead of the state run Hindustan Aeronautics.

On demanding to share the details of the pricing the government refused to do so stating a secrecy clause between India and France.

A case was filed in Indian Supreme Court  for an independent probe into India's decision to procure Rafale fighter jets and disclosure of the cost involved in the deal before Parliament. 

However after procuring details of pricing in a sealed envelope from the government the court dismissed all the petition.