The image of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh performing the puja of a Rafale fighter jet, the first if the 36 jets purchased by India handed over by France’s Dassault Aviation in Merignac, France, on Tuesday stood out among a plethora of pictures of the event.
Two big lemons were placed under the wheels of the plane while a coconut was placed atop the jet’s infrared search and track system.
The irony and the paradox of the situation was not lost on the Indians who took to social media to poke some fun in the moment of “great pride” for the country.
Well-known defence journalist Shiv Aroor tweeted a picture of the coconut placed along with garlands atop the plane with the comment: “Coconut and flowers on the Rafale’s Safran Front Sector Optronics (FSO), an infrared search & track system.”
Manimugdha Sharma (@quizzicalguy) compared it with the yesteryears’ ‘Hamara Bajaj’ moment when a new scooter – then a symbol of middle class prosperity -- was fondly garlanded and a brief puja used to be performed in front of it.
“Hamara Bajaj moment on French soil. Taking delivery of French-made fighter jets equipped with cutting edge technology and still using nimboos to ward off evil spirits and coconuts to make it holy. Thank god we are alive to see such interesting things,” Sharma tweeted.
Later, Rajnath Singh took a sortie in the plane that is being projected as a “game changer” in the region in the realm of air combat. He was flown by French test pilot Philippe Duchateau.
Vivek Tiwari (@Viv2511) pointed out that it is still a few years before the first Rafale jet arrives in India and it is not what millions of Indians have been given to understand that the jet will be flying directly to India in a day or two.
“What stupidity is this? The media is calling it as the first delivery of the Rafale. The truth, we understand, is that the plane will not come to India for 2-3 yrs. There are further enhancements needed in the planes,” Tiwari said.
“The government fools the media, which in turn fools the people,” he added.
The Defence Minister said: “I am happy that the delivery of Rafale aircraft is on schedule, I am confident that this will add further strength to our Air Force. I wish cooperation between our two major democracies further increases in all sectors.”
"I am sure the aircraft will live up to its name. I believe Rafale will boost India's air dominance exponentially to ensure peace and security in the region," Singh said at the ceremony that was also attended by French defense minister Florence Parl.
Singh also took a tour of Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation's plant before a symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony for the first Rafale combat jet.
France’s top military brass as well as senior officials of Dassault Aviation were present at the ceremony.
India has ordered 36 Rafale fighter jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016.
All 36 jets are expected to arrive in India by September 2022, for which the IAF has been reportedly undertaking preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots.
The Rafale is a twin-jet fighter aircraft able to operate from both an aircraft carrier and a shore base. The manufacturers describe it as a fully versatile aircraft which can carry out all combat aviation missions to achieve air superiority and air defence, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes and nuclear deterrence.
"In the defence sector, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is our longest standing export customer and has been flying Dassault aircraft since 1953. The acquisition contract for 36 Rafale signed in 2016 and the modernisation of the Mirage 2000 I/TI are a continuation of this historic partnership," Dassault Aviation said in a statement.
The Opposition in India, particularly the Congress party, has accused the Narendra Modi government of indulging in crony capitalism and buying the jets at higher prices in the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal.
Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence has got a Rs 30,000 crore offset contract in the deal though it has no prior experience in defence aviation, the Opposition pointed out.
The state-owned, cash-strapped, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) that has years of experience and expertise in the field was also a contender for the offset contract. However, it was ignored for some of the “friends” of PM Modi, the Congress alleged.