The French government has called out Congress chief Rahul Gandhi over his claim in the Lok Sabha that French President Emmanuel Macron had told him there is no secrecy pact between India and France over the Rafale deal. The spokesperson of France's Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs has said the two countries have signed an agreement to protect classified information.
The row centres over the allegations by the Congress that the Modi government is paying more for the Rafale fighter jets than the price negotiated by the previous UPA government. To this end, Rahul Gandhi, speaking in the Lok Sabha on the motion of no confidence on Friday, had said he had met Macron, who told him that France has no problems with releasing the details of the Rafale deal signed by the Modi government.
"We have noted the statement of Mr Rahul Gandhi before the Indian Parliament. France and India concluded in 2008 a Security agreement, which legally binds the two States to protect the classified information provided by the partner, that could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment of India or France," said an unidentified spokesperson of France's Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs in response to a question about Rahul Gandhi's claims.
The response was released by the French government in a Q & A format that spared it the need for an explanatory note on the controversy. "These provisions naturally apply to the IGA concluded on 23 September 2016 on the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft and their weapons. As the President of the French Republic indicated publicly in an interview given to India Today on 9th March 2018, 'In India and in France, when a deal is very sensitive, we can't reveal all details'," the French spokesperson added.
India's purchase of the 36 Rafale omnirole fighter jets had been signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to France in 2016. The deal had come after years of efforts by New Delhi to decide which fighter aircraft to buy as part of what has come to be known in international defence circles as the 'Indian MMRCA competition'. The Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender saw India pick the French Rafale as its fighter of choice. But a deal for the purchase of 126 planes fell through on concerns of cost and technology transfer.
It is common for countries to protect information on the specifications of the orders for high-level weapons systems. Apart from the sensitivity of the defence technology, the secrecy also helps deny information on the capabilities of weapons systems to the purchasing countries adversaries.
These secrecy clauses may even cover the cost of the deal in some cases, to prevent adversaries from building educated estimates of what sort of weapons systems or sensors and radars are part of a weapons deal.