Rajat Sharma

A golden moment in the history of Indian Air Force

Indian Air Force had been waiting for these fighter jets for the last 21 years, and the entire process had been entangled in the web of delaying tactics by bureaucrats and political masters. Several governments came and left, but the IAF’s demand for Rafale fighter jets lay buried deep inside the files.

AKB2103July 29 was a historic day for India, a day marking a momentous event that fills the hearts of every Indian with pride. Five Rafale fighter jets from France landed to a big welcome from the Indian Air Force at Ambala air base on Wednesday. In all, 36 Rafale fighter jets have been ordered by India and Dassault Aviation has promised to deliver them at the earliest. It was a day to celebrate the bravery of our IAF men and women, a day for our enemies to worry, and a day for political rivals of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, particularly Rahul Gandhi, to self-introspect.

Indian Air Force had been waiting for these fighter jets for the last 21 years, and the entire process had been entangled in the web of delaying tactics by bureaucrats and political masters. Several governments came and left, but the IAF’s demand for Rafale fighter jets lay buried deep inside the files.

The nation had the fortune to watch these five Rafale jets streak through the skies and land majestically at Ambala air base, completing a flight distance of 8,500 kilometres with a stopover in Abu Dhabi. This was made possible because the nation has a strong leader in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who never hesitates to take bold decisions in the national interest, a leader with a strong and decisive political will, marked with farsightedness.

Soon after the arrival of the fighter jets, Modi tweeted in Sanskrit a famous ‘shloka’ (verse): राष्ट्ररक्षासमं पुण्यं, राष्ट्ररक्षासमं व्रतम्, राष्ट्ररक्षासमं यज्ञो, दृष्टो नैव च नैव च (meaning, there is no virtue greater than protecting the nation, there is no vow and sacrifice greater than the defence of the nation). He ended his tweet with the motto of IAF: नभः स्पृशं दीप्तम् (touch the sky with glory).

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh hailed the arrival of Rafale jets with his tweet: “ … if it is anyone who should be worried about or critical about this new capability of the Indian Air Force, it should be those who want to threaten our territorial integrity…The Rafale jets were purchased only because PM Narendra Modi took the right decision to get these aircraft through an Inter-Governmental Agreement with France, after the long-pending procurement case for them could not progress. I thank him for his courage and decisiveness.”

Rajnath Singh’s words are true. In my 43-year-long career, I have seen the working of most of the PMs except Pandit Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Forget fighter jets, even buying jeeps for the army was a daunting prospect. Forget the latest modern weapons, our jawans yearned for bulletproof jackets and helmets. The Rafale file that was being tossed from one table to another for 15 years, was taken up by Narendra Modi, and he gave full freedom to senior officials to take decisions.

The result: within six years, not only was the deal clinched, but the Rafale jets have landed on Indian soil. Narendra Modi deserves credit for the incredible speed with which these jets were procured. That is why I say, the nation had the fortune to watch visuals of Rafale jets arriving on Indian soil and this was possible only because of Modi’s political will and decisiveness.

All the defence experts who came at the India TV debate on Wednesday admitted that the IAF was waiting for an advanced fighter jet for the last two decades, especially to counter the Chinese and Pakistani fighter jets. Our air force was in dire need of state-of-the-art multi-role combat aircraft. None of the governments dared to clear the Rafale deal for the last 21 years, but it was Prime Minister Modi who understood the urgent requirements of our air force, and went to Paris to sign the deal, that was hanging fire for nine years during the UPA regime.

Modi renegotiated the deal in 2016 and within four years, the jets have landed. This was possible because Modi had snapped off the entire ‘supply line’ of middlemen out to make money.

At a time, when the whole nation applauded the arrival of Rafale jets, Rahul Gandhi and his Congress party struck a note of dissonance. While congratulating IAF for acquiring Rafale jets, Rahul Gandhi tweeted to ask: “..can GOI answer (1) why each aircraft costs Rs 1670 crore instead of Rs 526 crore? (2) why 36 aircraft were bought instead of 126? (3) Why was bankrupt Anil given a Rs 30,000 crore contract instead of HAL?

Rahul Gandhi has been asking these old questions over and over for the last three years. He made this an election issue last year, took the matter to Supreme Court, which after studying sealed envelopes carrying top secret information, gave a go-ahead to the deal, and yet Rahul took it to the court of the people last year during general elections.

His entire poll campaign was focused on the Rafale deal. At every meeting, he chanted slogans like ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’, alleged at every meeting that it was Modi who put Rs 30,000 crore in Anil Ambani’s pockets. I remember, former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley telling Parliament that the Rafale deal signed by Modi government was cheaper compared to the deal offered to the UP government. Even the CAG in its report said that the deal signed by Modi government was 17.08 per cent cheaper than the previous offer. And yet, Rahul Gandhi continued to raise this issue, embellished with abusive words, and he continues to do so, even now.

It was during last year’s poll campaign that Modi replied to Rahul’s allegations and said that the day Rafale jets will fly in Indian skies and people will salute them, the naysayers will get their due reply. The day arrived on July 29. In fact, several senior Congress leaders tried to advise Rahul not to make personal attacks on Modi because such charges will not stick because of Modi’s incorruptible image in public and the Congress party may have to face losses. The nation gave its resounding reply to Rahul several times through ballots.

I personally feel that the time has come for the Congress to close the Rafale chapter and raise the morale of our air force. The party should welcome the induction of Rafale jets in the IAF. The Congress should also learn lessons from past mistakes.

For the last 30 years, there were no big defence deals to fulfil the requirements of our armed forces. Charges of corruption through middlemen were levelled in almost every defence deal. When the UPA was in power, its Defence Minister A. K. Antony was more conscious about protecting his ‘Mr. Clean image’ rather than taking decisions on big defence deals. The file relating to Rafale deal was left in limbo.

In contrast, Narendra Modi had full confidence in his ‘clean image’. When he took over as Prime Minister, he started taking decisions on big defence deals. He entrusted the Defence ministry to leaders having incorruptible image like Arun Jaitley, Manohar Parrikar, Nirmala Sitharaman and Rajnath Singh. Nobody could raise a finger against the image of these leaders.

Even his political rivals cannot question Modi’s honesty, patriotism and hard work. Those who questioned Modi had to bite the dust at the hustings. Today is the day to offer our own contribution to this great sacrificial ‘yagna’ for national defence, a day to take pride in our armed forces, a day to take a vow to strengthen the hands of our brave army officers and jawans, who have the capability to defeat the enemies. At least, let us all keep politics above matters relating to defence.

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