The five Rafale fighter jets that landed on Wednesday at Ambala do not constitute even half a squadron. But their delivery once again brings back the spotlight on France which has remained India’s trusted partner through the Cold War and beyond.
Just two years after India’s independence and a year before US President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech that opened the doors for multi-country civil nuclear collaboration, France and India had collaborated in a project to extract thorium from monazite sand. It was a dead-end but it in turn led to a partnership that lasted till India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974.
But when India conducted its second nuclear test in 1998, Russia and France were the only major powers that did not succumb this time to the Anglo-US pressure to cancel military and security exchanges.
A year later, France made emergency supplies of ammunition during the Kargil war that was used by Mirage planes for accurate and debilitating strikes on Pakistani sangars on steep mountainsides.