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Defence Deals

Defence Deals

Shocking India to its very foundations, the frequency of scams that has rocked the country is an indicator of the fact that greed, as that vile trait in human beings, has transcended all tolerable limits to evolve into an all-consuming affair.

With the corruption in high places way beyond redemption, ‘zero-tolerance’ to the malaise is too mild a euphemism employed by the present government to show its abhorrence for the unscrupulousness that has permeated every aspect of life in the country today.

The seemingly ‘futile’ attempts in booking the scamsters hardly bear any result considering the vanishing act the swindlers specialize in even before the rip-off comes to light.

It is with a fair amount of trepidation that the nation should be viewing its failure to arrest and successfully prosecute the culprits as these shortcomings would be raising enough skepticism in the minds of the people who are wont to suspect the machinations of those in power to help the guilty evade the long arm of the law.

And some of the recent cases that have flummoxed the authorities have only strengthened such lucid thoughts!

Giving shape to India’s biggest banking fraud, diamantaire Nirav Modi proved how easy it is to con the financial establishments in the country and ‘bask’ in the luxuries of the ill-gotten wealth.

The ‘complexities’ involved in the extradition effort by the Indian government to bring Vijay Mallya to justice allows the fugitive tycoon the comforts of a plush ‘retirement’ in a foreign country.

Which brings us to the most pertinent question in this context: Why are the high and mighty in the country never brought to book for their misdemeanors?

While a common man has to bear the brunt of the complicated legal procedures for the slightest infringement of law, it is very disheartening to note the impudence with which the rich and powerful deliberately break the rules laid down in pursuance of ‘self-gratifying agendas’ which usually have illegality written all over it.

While the arrest and incarceration of a number of prominent political leaders and business magnates over the years strengthens one’s belief in the laws of the country which are purportedly unbiased and do not discriminate between citizens, how is it that some ‘manage’ to receive preferential treatment over others!

It is amidst such settings that the nation’s attention is drawn towards corruption whenever agreements are made to acquire armaments from foreign countries!

Defence deals though tend to go awry the moment they are announced, not so much for the intricacies of the agreement as the political browbeating that takes unprecedented attention over the whole matter.

With a hyper-active media - and of late, the virulent social media - virtually making a dissection of the complex jargon that makes up for the contract and bringing it under the microscope, it is soon in the public domain garnering an inquisitive interest.

It is this curiosity that facilitates the making of a scam!

If the Bofors scandal has haunted the Congress all these years, the BJP-led alliance at the centre will now have to contend with the spectre of the Rafale deal looming large over it!

It is an overt secret that kickbacks are essentially a part of defence deals! Though mired in controversies, the ‘supply-chain’ formed from the stage of requisitioning to the final procurement of the ‘goods’ has had monetary considerations and other gratifications smoothening the progress of the deal.

In India, however, it is more pertinent to speak about the ‘political complicity’ that characterizes most of the government contracts. The corruption that defines these arrangements defies any challenge to its permanence metastasizing into a malignancy that encompasses the entire system.

Graft cases in defence deals are probably as ancient as the times that exemplify them. But it is the involvement of officers and personnel of the services in these frauds that rankles the patriotic emotions of the masses. It is indeed a bit difficult to digest the fact that those entrusted the task of safeguarding the nation against enemy designs could concern themselves with acts amounting to ‘treasonous behaviour’. 

Yet, the ‘Adarsh housing society scam’, ‘Sukna land scam’, ‘Ration supplies scam’ and the ‘Kargil coffin scam’ to name a few that rocked the nation purely for the audacity of the act puts the entire rot in a totally different perspective.

When it comes to lucre over loyalty, somehow for quite a few in the higher ranks of Indian military’s hierarchy, the financial aspects of the deal override any other consideration.

Without naming any specific individual, cases involving top armed forces officers and defence estate officers in various scams have been too many to enumerate. Suffice to say that have been blots on the highly revered establishment that has been kindling nationalistic feelings among the populace.

Now coming to the Rafale controversy that has been creating waves in the country, at least for the opportunity it has given the opposition Congress to come out all guns blazing and dent the popularity of the ‘upright’ Modi-sarkar!  

In April 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that India will buy 36 French-manufactured Rafale fighter jets off-the-shelf from Dassault, the French aircraft builder and integrator.

After a lot of hiccups over the cost of the aircrafts, faced with the dipping number of fighters and a pressing need to upgrade the Indian Air Force, in September 2016 India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France which was dubbed as ‘Rafale deal’ which would also get India spares and weaponry, including the ‘Meteor missile’ considered among the most advanced in the world.

Further under the inter-governmental agreement, the supplier company had to opt for an Indian counterpart under the ‘Make in India’ policy for the manufacture of some parts of the aircraft.

The Congress grouse is that the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence Limited had been unfairly picked to be the French firm’s Indian partner. Raising the matter in the Parliament, the Congress claimed that the cost of the aircraft is three times more than what the previous UPA government had negotiated with France in 2012.

The refusal by the Defence minister to disclose the details of the deal as it is ‘classified information’ as per the inter-governmental agreement has further fuelled the fire.

In a fresh twist to the controversy, former French President Francois Hollande who was in power when the deal for the 36 Rafale fighters with India were firmed up, told a French media portal that it was the Indian government which proposed Reliance Defence as offset partner for Dassault.

However, with the French government and Dassault Aviation distancing itself from the claims of the former President, the picture only gets murkier!

Whether the BJP is beginning to feel Rafale heat or not is a matter of assumption! But for a fact by drawing the BJP into a perception war which repeatedly links PM Modi with businessman Anil Ambani – while the Congress continues to bat for the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics – the stage is set for a grand showdown.

As a political stunt, where both the BJP and the Congress have been presented the opportunity on a platter to engage in a war of words over it, it is the matter of the transparency of the deal that has appeared to corner the Modi-ensemble.

If it so desires, the BJP can come clean on the issue by addressing the concerns of the opposition vis-à-vis the details of the deal. But by ducking and covering it is acting as though it has something to hide.

Of course, the Rafale deal is destined to go pretty much the same way as the Bofors and many such other controversies before them, of interest only as a political tool, an insurance against any further mud-slinging.

But for now, the Congress is striving hard to build a narrative around the Rafale deal that can have an effect similar to what Bofors scandal had on 1989 Lok sabha elections.

And the nation goes to polls in 2019!

(Published on 01st October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 40)