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The End of the Saga: From Toofanis to Rafale
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Claude Arpi | Date:21 Sep , 2016 1 Comment
Claude Arpi
Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

According to PTI, Jean Yves Le Drian, French Defence Minister will land in Delhi on September 22.

He will be accompanied by the CEOs of Dassault Aviation, Thales and MBDA (and Safran?) to seal the 7.87 billion Euros deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets.

PTI says: “Defence sources said if all goes well, the Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) will be signed on September 23.”

Apparently the cost, offsets and service details have been finalised and work is progressing on the IGA. A ‘working team’ from France is in Delhi “with their own translators are going through the contract, running into several thousand pages, with their Indian counterparts.”

It is the end of a long saga which started in 2001. (Read Rafale Saga).

On this occasion on the conclusion of The Deal, I published below a cable sent by H.S. Malik, the Indian Ambassador to France on October 26, 1953.

The cable is addressed to the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru and relates to the sales of Ouragans (Toofanis in India) aircrafts to India.

The planes were sold to India …by Dassault.

One should mention that at the time, the relations were then very tense between France and India over the French Settlements of Pondicherry, Yanaon, Mahe and Karikal.

Here is Ambassador Malik’s message.

My dear Panditji,

All of us in the Embassy who have been working on the implantation of the contract with the Defence Ministry here for the supply of Ouragan aircraft were greatly relieved and delighted when we got the news that our four pilots with the four Ouragans had reached Palam safely. This flight from France to India has involved a great deal of organizational work for which much credit is due to the team of the Indian Air Force Officers working here under Wing Commander Akut.

In this connection, I venture to being to your notice the wonderful cooperation that we have received both from the French officers of the Ministry of Defence, from the Cabinet Minister downwards, and from the French industry. We signed the contract only last June. Already four planes have reached India; another 35 are being sent on October the 30th on the aircraft carrier DIXMUDE, and the remainder, 32 aircraft, will be dispatched in January 1954. I think you will agree that this is indeed prompt execution of the agreement as embodied in the contract between us and the French. This agreement is being carried out both in the spirit and in the letter and there has been no instance of any attempt to delay or obstruct. Our pilots who came here to learn to fly this type of aircraft, which was new to them, won the admiration and respect of the French Air Force and, generally speaking, the other members of the Indian Air Force who have come to France for the requisite training to enable them to carry out the servicing of this aircraft in India have, in spite of the language handicap, applied themselves with energy and devotion to their task and have made friends and won the respect of the people among whom they have lived. I am personally very proud and full of admiration for the way in which Wing Commander Akut and his team of technical officers have done their job here and of the way in which our pilots and the other Indian Air Force personnel have done their job in France.

I have been thinking for some time whether it would not be possible to use the opportunity provided us by this cooperation and collaboration by the French to relive somewhat the existing unfortunate state of relations between India and France on account of the position which we naturally have had to take up vis-à-vis the stupidity and lack of imagination of the French over the question of the French Settlements in India as also over the question of the French North African Possessions. Yesterday, when I was lunching with the President at Rambouillet, an idea came to me after my conversation with Mme Paul Auriol, daughter-in-law of the President, who as you probably know is a most distinguished and famous Aviatrix, being one of the two women who have crossed the sound-barrier. Mme Paul was present at the luncheon and during our conversation which was over the subject of the supply by France, of the Ouragon aircraft to India, she said laughingly: “Wouldn’t be nice if we could all be at Bombay to be present on the arrival of the DIXMUDE with the 35 French Aircraft purchased by India, on board?” Incidentally, the President was most friendly at luncheon and, among other things, drank a toast to India coupling your name with it, and hoping that France and India would go ahead working together in the cause of peace.

Mme Paul Auriol’s remark revived in my mind what had already been simmering there on the subject of some gesture by us to show the French how much we appreciate their cooperation in this matter. I feel that it would be a nice gesture on our part if we could fly out by Air India and back, the French Air Minister and his wife, the principal officer of the Air Ministry with whom we have been dealing (Commdt. Serralta), the Head of OFFEMA who have been the intermediaries between us and the Defence Ministry, and the Head of the firm Marcel Dassault who assemble the aircraft. I would also include in the party, Mme Paul Auriol because of her extremely distinguished flying record which is the pride of France. Her inclusion would have a very good effect on French public opinion.

From our side, there would be myself and my wife (since the Air Minister’s wife would be going, I think it would be proper if my wife also was in the party), our Military Attache Brig. Chopra who has been in general charge of the execution of the contract, and Wing Commander Akut who has been personally responsible for most of the work. My idea would be that the entire party should reach Bombay in time to be present when the DIXMUDE reaches Bombay (say, about the 20th November). They could then participate in any official ceremony that might be arranged for this occasion. They would then be flown to Delhi where the French members of the party would be the guests of the Government of India for 4 or 5 days during the course of which some sight-seeing and some social functions might be arranged for them. I believe that a gesture of this kind would help a lot in taking away some of the bitter taste that is at present attached to French Indian relations.

I realise that this proposal involves a good deal of expenditure on our part, but I believe it would be money well spent. In this connection it would perhaps be pertinent for me to tell you of an incident in connection with this contract which I believe is significant and representative of the spirit in which the French are implementing the contract. Although the contract did not provide for it, in the informal talks the subordinate French representatives had told our people that they would provide an aircraft carrier for the transport of these planes to India. Subsequently, it transpired that this particular aircraft carrier was not available as it had gone to sea for certain manoeuvres. The French then told our people that the aircraft would have to be shipped to India by ordinary merchant ships. Since under the contract we have to bear the expenses on the transport of the planes to India, this would have involved not only considerable delay but very heavy Charges both on account of freight and on account of dismantling, packing etc., of the aircraft before shipment. When I heard all this, I immediately got into touch with M. Pleven, the Defence Minister, and told him of this development and asked for his intercession. He assured me straightaway that he would look into the matter personally and see to it that we got satisfaction. Thereafter, another aircraft carrier was placed at our disposal as a result of the personal intercession of the Defence Minister himself. This has saved us not only great inconvenience and delay but something like Rs 5,50,000/-. The point is of course that the French were not bound to do this under the terms of the contract and did it as a gesture of goodwill towards us. I feel strongly that it would be well worthwhile to reciprocate this goodwill by the plan that I have ventured to put forward to you in this letter.

I have of course not mentioned this idea to any of the French officials, and will do so only if you approve. I have no doubt that a visit to India by the above party as the guests of the Government of India would be greatly welcomed by the French.


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