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INDIA

French fighter jet deal: India ‘a school of patience’

The less-than-supersonic sale of French Rafale fighter jets to India has highlighted the obstacles facing foreign arms firms seeking to do business with the world's biggest weapons importer.

French fighter jet deal: India 'a school of patience'
Rafale jets at an assembly hanger in Merignac, southwestern France. Photo: Jean-Pierre Muller/AFP
India has signed a series of key defence deals under Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of a $100 billion upgrade of its Soviet-era military hardware, making it an attractive proposition for arms exporters.
   
But a series of corruption scandals have made India a challenging environment, with huge delays and a tough negotiation process.
   
After nearly a decade of discussions and setbacks India signed a deal Friday to acquire 36 Rafale fighter jets for 7.9 billion euros ($8.8 billion) as it seeks to bolster its military against an increasingly assertive China.
   
Defence experts say the aircraft, manufactured by France's Dassault, will provide a much needed boost to India's air force. But the final windfall was much less than had been hoped for by the French.
   
“The Indians always conduct very tough negotiations. They are known for it,” said Isabelle Saint-Mezard, a specialist in South Asian strategic issues at the University of Paris.
   
“They have all the major weapons suppliers knocking at their door, so they are well positioned to do so.”
   
Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation, has gained experience of India's bargaining tactics in recent years. “India is a school of patience,” he said.
   
The country ranks 130 out of 189 on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business index — the worst of all G20 countries — and regulations vary capriciously across its 29 states, where even the same law can be interpreted in bafflingly different ways.
 
Fear of corruption
   
Allegations of corruption have scuppered Indian defence deals as far back as 1987, when then-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's government collapsed over charges of kickbacks paid to Indian officials by the Swedish group Bofors to clinch a $1.3-billion artillery deal.
   
Fears of further corruption meant that “the modernisation of the armed forces stalled,” said Gulshan Luthra of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi.
   
To erect safeguards against graft India ramped up its army of bureaucrats dealing with weapons sales, with contracts becoming trapped in a paper maze.
   
The smallest comment on an arms deal required from a government department can delay a case for several months.
   
“In recent years, the authorities have tried to clamp down on graft. As a result, officials in charge of issuing contracts fear exposing themselves to suspicion of corruption and are reluctant to engage,” said St. Mezard. For a contract to succeed, “it usually takes strong political will at the highest level of the state,” she added.
   
But all these precautions do not prevent old demons resurfacing. In 2013 the government scrapped a $748 million contract with AgustaWestland helicopters following allegations it was won through kickbacks.
   
Technology transfer
   
Deals are also complicated because India is determined to achieve its goal of being less dependent on foreign trade for its military equipment. Its tenders are accompanied by significant technology transfer requests.
   
For example, one mooted deal was to have seen Dassault assemble 108 out of 126 fighter jets on Indian soil.
   
But the French refused to assume responsibility for all the planes that were to be built in India.
   
“The Indians insist on such deals, but without always having the means or the expertise to carry them out. As a result, suppliers are reluctant to embark on this sort of agreement,” said St. Mezard.
   
Faced with an urgent need to modernise its military, Modi's government finally opted for the direct sale of 36 ready-to-fly Rafale jets, which will be manufactured in France.
   
But Dassault will be contractually bound to reinvest nearly half of the value of the deal in India, an obligation known as the offset clause.
   
“The offset rules are very complicated and opaque,” said Rahul Bedi, a Jane's Defence Weekly analyst. “We are talking high-tech and the Indian industry does not have the sophistication to absorb such offsets.”
   
India has signed several big-ticket deals since Hindu nationalist Modi took power in 2014.
   
The increasing assertiveness of its giant neighbour China as well as its simmering rivalry with Pakistan have increased its need to upgrade its military. That signals many potential contracts for foreign arms suppliers — despite the obstacles.

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INDIA

Where to celebrate Diwali in France in 2019

France’s Indian community will be hosting a number of Diwali events across the country in the last days of October.

Where to celebrate Diwali in France in 2019
Photo: AFP

If you’re looking to add a bit of spice and colour to an otherwise grey October in France, maybe a dose of Diwali is what you need. 

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is a four to five day-long festival of lights which is celebrated mainly by Hindus every autumn, but also by Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists.

This year it is estimated around a billion revellers across the globe will light candles outside their homes and at festivals to symbolise the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.

In France, where around 20,000 Indian citizens are officially registered, there will be a number of events in the final days of October to mark the occasion.

Nantes, Friday October 25th: More than 1,000 people are expected to take part in a Diwali celebration in the Loire-Atlantique city which will include concerts, talks and group meditation. The Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) and the city’s Sahaj Yoga meditation centre are organising the event.

Rennes, Saturday October 26th: Brittany will hold a multi-faceted Diwali celebration organised by its local Namasté Breizh association.

It will take place in the Rennes commune of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Lande (10 Rue Francois Mitterrand), starting at 5pm on Saturday with a concert by legendary bansuri (Indian flute) player Harsh Wardhan and then followed by classical and Bollywood dance routines, an organic vegetarian dinner for guests and a Indian dance party to cap it all off.

More info on tickets here.

Montpellier, Saturday October 26th and Sunday October 27th: The southern French city will hold a two-day Diwali music and dance festival with performances by more than 15 internationally renowned artists, kalbeliya and bhangra dance workshops, a dance competition and much more.

Find out more from organisers Natyamandir here

Paris, Saturday October 26th: Paris’s India House (Fondation Maison de l’Inde) has an interesting Diwali programme planned for the weekend.

Starting at 5pm on Saturday it will include a magic show, a Rajasthani Gypsy music and dance concert by the Anwar Khan Group, a fireworks display and a special Diwali dinner.

Paris, Wednesday, October 30th: If you missed earlier Diwali celebrations in the French capital, you can still head to the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) on Wednesday for a grand event being organised by the Indian Embassy in Paris and GOPIO.

Visitors can expect a show of traditional Indian songs, music and dance, candlelit dinners and appetizers, and of course, fireworks.

READ MORE: In which parts of France do Indians live?


 

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