Defence modernisation is a declared priority of successive Indian governments. When some years ago, the Indian Air Force sought to replace its outdated aircraft, major defence equipment manufacturing companies put in their bids. Dassault Aviation, a French company, won the bid and was selected for the purchase of 126 Rafale fighter aircraft. This was approximately in 2012 when the United Progressive Alliance, led by the Congress was in power. In 2015, the Modi government announced new terms to the agreement, which dramatically increased the cost of the aircraft. It also resulted in the sudden replacement of the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited with Reliance Defence, a company set up by the businessman Anil Ambani, and which had no prior experience in making defence equipment. India’s Supreme Court has rejected allegations of irregularities in the matter. However, in June 2021, France announced a judicial inquiry to investigate allegations of corruption and favouritism and involvement of both governments. This development was a result of investigations by the French news publication Mediapart and Sherpa, a French NGO that fights economic crime.
Beyond Nation and State Host, Urvashi Sarkar spoke to Chanez Mensous, litigation and advocacy officer at Sherpa, about the status of the case in France and the lack of transparency worldwide in defence procurement. The Rafale case isn’t the first instance of corruption in defence deals in India. Previous prominent cases include the Bofors and AgustaWestland corruption scams.