France can be expected to keep its own counsel as it is the ultimate beneficiary of the deals.

If big decisions to buy Predator drones and the manufacture of GE jet aircraft engines in India headlined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in January accords on 26 marine Rafale fighter jets and three Scorpene submarines were expected to be right up there in the talking points about his recent France trip. Just as it happened ahead of the US visit, the defence acquisition council did the spadework by granting ‘acceptance of necessity’ for the Rafales and Scorpene a day before the Bastille Day parade in Paris, for which Modi was the chief guest. Why, then, were they missing in the final accords? “The metrics of defence partnership are not defined by a single acquisition or non-acquisition, a single procurement or transaction,” foreign secretary Vijay Mohan Kwatra cryptically said in response to media queries.

Confirmation, however, on the Rafales came a day later from its manufacturer, Dassault Aviation. “The Indian Government announced the selection of the Navy Rafale to equip the Indian Navy with a latest-generation fighter,” Dassault said in a statement. It added that the 26 Rafale-Ms would eventually join the 36 Rafales already in Indian service. Also, the Scorpenes were on an earlier version of the agreements hosted on the foreign ministry site but slipped out of the final one.

Going silent on such major acquisitions was decidedly odd for a government that likes to take credit for every little movement forward. While speculation is rife on its motive, chances are it wanted to keep the Rafale-Ms out of the political dogfight in the run-up to the general elections less than a year away. The estimated cost of the Rafale-Ms and Scorpenes is around Rs 80,000 crore. Such big-ticket spending may be important to enhance the country’s security, but they do not necessarily fetch votes. Besides, Rafales faced serious corruption charges during the last general elections, but the allegations could not be established. The Congress had sought to whip up a storm after the MQ-9B Predator pact, claiming it was way too expensive though the final price was yet to be negotiated.

France can be expected to keep its own counsel as it is the ultimate beneficiary of the deals. It’s been India’s all-weather friend for at least 25 years, supporting the country even during the international sanctions in the aftermath of the Pokhran-2 nuclear bomb tests. It deserves as much weightage as the US in bilateral deals.