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Tu me rends fou, India, says world over Rafale deal

world Updated: Feb 03, 2012 00:41 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

“We’ve been waiting for this day for 30 years,” President Nicolas Sarkozy told journalists before breaking the “excellent news” from New Delhi to his waiting ministers. He is now widely expected to launch his re-election campaign on the back of New Delhi’s decision to select the makers of France’s Rafale jet for exclusive talks on a multi-billion-dollar arms deal.

The reaction in the French media has been more muted. “There is an element of quiet satisfaction – no one has gone to town, and no one’s thumping their chests,” Ambassador Rakesh Sood tells me. In Britain it fell upon none other than PM David Cameron to try and calm down hysterical MPs. They are angry beca­use, somehow, they have long assumed that New Delhi will select the Eurofighter Typhoon, in whose manufacture Britain has a major role.

“It’s an awful kick in the teeth for the Indians to give this work to the French,” Conservative MP Patrick Mercer said.

Pre­dictably, the French award has revived demands to cut the £280 million-a-year British aid to India. If India can afford to buy expensive aircraft, the argument runs, why doesn’t it spend on poor? And if they have to have British aid, shouldn’t they at least give us more business?

In Germany — another country involved in the making of the Eurofighter — the hope is that this isn’t a done deal yet and that the talks with Rafale will fail. “Who’s ever even heard of the Rafale jet fighter,” asked an article in the online edition of Der Spiegel, a leading newsmaga­zine. And hadn’t Chan­cellor Angela Merkel told PM Manmo­han Singh recently that India would become the Eurofighter’s “fifth partner country” after Germany, Britain, Spain and Italy?

These reactions offer interest early case-studies for the emerging relationships between the new and old economic powerhouses in the 21st century.

It is just possible that India went for Rafale because it is cheaper — and there’s something in the view held in Ame­rica that India settled for a plane rather than a relationship. But where tens of billions of dollars are at stake in a part of the world that could really do with some, relationships are bound to follow.