Answer by Balaji Viswanathan:
India lives in a shabby neighborhood and many people underestimate the importance of defense both in historical terms and in developmental terms.
In their strawman argument: India is sacrificing bread to make bombs.
Actually, the reality is other way around. India's spending in defense tech is arguably not adequate:India spends around 2.4% of its total income [GDP] on defense and lot of it on manpower. This is right about the world average. Even France and UK spend far more than India in $ terms although they face no major threat, while India has to deal with a dangerous neighborhood with two nuclear powers and two major piracy hotspots on both sides of the country [Straits of Malacca and Somalia].
If 4000 years of Indian history teaches something, it is that if we let our defenses go weak we lose out centuries of development. Mauryas, Cholas, Guptas and Mughals all kept stellar armies under which Indian economy prospered, while the economy floundered under empires with weak armies.
In short, we need guns and bombs to ensure that no one steals our bread.
You can see this practically. Over the past 5 decades, India has drastically increased its defense technology and acquired new weapons [including n-bombs] that has both eliminated wars as well as given investors insurance that they can invest in India for the long term. That assurance is helping the flow of investments, creating new jobs and solving poverty. We are bringing out millions of Indians out of poverty each year, in the peace provided by our defense forces.
India has purchased the Rafale jets because our Air Force is depleted of fighter jets and woefully inadequate in air supremacy. We need our airforce and navy to be agile when it comes to responding to threats anywhere around the Indian ocean. When they are agile, trade flows and economy prospers. While 36 of the jets will be made in France, the rest will be made in India that would also generate local jobs & bring a variety of other benefits to the Indian industry.
The price paid for the first 36 is at dirt cheap prices far lower than what other countries pay.. For the remaining in the deal, there will be tech transfer.
Besides the core benefit of improving fighter power and getting French cooperation for "Make in India" it also brings India more closer to EU – the world's largest economic zone. Indian PM is not a shabby deal maker and we would get the French help in increasing trade cooperation with the EU and that again means more jobs, less poverty.
In short, we need the jets and other defense expenditure totalling a mere 2.4% of GDP so that we can be sure that the rest 97.6% of our economy is safe, sound and growing. We need the guns blowing to prevent external threats from slowing our economy and reducing our poverty reduction goals.