April 05, 2012

Gen V K Singh uncovers Armsgate Scam -- M D Nalapat


Geopolitical notes from India

Wednesday, April 04, 2012, Jama di ul Awal 11, 1433

Delhi is the nest of no fewer than six dozen international arms dealers, and they are the most desirable of friends to have in the national capital of what is effectively the world’s fourth-largest economy. Every week, each of them throws at least one if not more parties, at which liquor flows in the same profusion was water into bathtubs. The pot-bellied, ageing politicians and civil servants - now joined by a smattering of those in uniform - in attendance do not bring their wives along, for in such gatherings, there are numerous charming young ladies who attach themselves to the powerful attendees throughout the evening. What they whisper into the ancient, unsightly ears of the senior civil servants, select military brass and politician is not known, but whatever it be, the honeyed tone is effective.

Contract after contract gets awarded in profusion to the lucky hosts, who are usually called upon to design tender specifications in such a way that only their chosen candidate will get selected. The name of the game is to frame the rules and the conditions in such a way that the rest of the pack gets eliminated Thus, in the selection of the $11 billion contract for the MMRCA (Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft) ,the single-engined Saab Gripen was excluded “because it has a single engine and is therefore less safe than twin-engined aircraft”. The reality, of course, is that statistics show that twin-engined combat aircraft are no safer than those with single engines. Saab being bankrupt, the entire company could have been bought over for the price of the 126-aircraft deal, thereby enabling India to gain access to advanced technology as well as providing it with a platform that can enable Delhi to enter the field of sale of defense aircraft, the way China is already doing.

In contrast, the Dassault Rafaele (which key circles in Delhi had told this columnist was the chosen craft, nine months before the selection was made public) involves no significant transfer of technology. The company remains French, and has indeed been saved from financial collapse by the huge Indian order, although no other country in the world has bought the Rafaele, save its captive market, France. Even the GCC countries, who are normally very obliging in such matters, have not touched the Rafaele, despite strenous efforts by the Sarkozy government to get them to buy the aircraft. However,the French President has succeeded in India, perhaps because of the persuasive abilities of his Italian-born wife Carla, who shares such roots with the all-powerful Congress President, Sonia (Maino) Gandhi France is indeed experiencing a bonanza from India. Not only has it managed to rescue Dassault through the MMRCA purchase (which flouts commonsense, because the Rafaele is comprehensively inferior to the fifth-generation aircraft being developed by China), but a total of more than $6 billion has been spent on purchasing French submarines, again vessels that are no match for the nuclear-powered vessels of the PLA Navy.

Although there have been numerous corruption allegations against key French companies such as Thales, this has not prevented them from landing juicy contracts in India, a country where French women are much admired for their proficiency in aerobic exercises. As icing on the cake, in telecom as well as in the field of nuclear reactors, other French enterprises have landed, or are in the process of finalising, contracts worth several billion dollars each. The common link in all that is that the money for such expenditure comes from the Indian taxpayer. Clearly a case of the poor feeding the rich, in that India could have had a flourishing defense production industry, if its policymakers had not been determined to acquire only foreign platforms and systems. For more than three decades, successive governments have talked of “indigenisation”, but in 2012,more than 81% of critical defense equipment is sourced from foreign suppliers, even trucks, of which the private sector in India is an international supplier. You will find Tata or Leyland or Mahindra vehicles in much greater profusion in foreign countries than in the Indian military, which wears a distinctly foreign look.

In the most expensive beauty parlours of Delhi or Mumbai, where an hour can cost more than $300, you can find the wives and daughters of not only politicians, officials and businesspersons (the usual suspects) but of senior military brass. Indeed, the lifestyles of some of the retired senior brass of the three services is such as would rival that of a prince, complete with multiple airconditioners and Audi and BMW cars littering the garages. Of course, nobody from the Income-tax department asks just how a retired military officer can afford such luxuries on his pension. For the record, they form “consultancy” companies. In common with the wives of senior officials and politicians, who earn huge “consultancy” fees without having knowledge of anything other kitty parties, the spouses of certain military officers have substantial income from companies that apparently pay them to go twice a week to the beauty parlour. The lifestyles of some retired super-senior military officers is clearly too opulent for them to have made the money they spend ethically, and yet no action gets taken against them.

After all, they are just joining a very populous club, that of crooked officers and politicians, that include some of the biggest names in Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has become a figure of fun in social media, with acerbic comments about his incapacity (if not unwillingness) to take action to stem graft. Another honest but ineffective individual is Defense Minister A K Antony, who presides over a ministry that is among the most corrupt in the country. Now they are under pressure, and all because of an honest officer who refused to go the way of some of his predecessors and amass wealth. The present Chief of Army Staff, General V K Singh, is a misfit in a post where there are so many opportunities for enrichment, and so much punishment in case one remains honest. He has gone public about being offered a $3 million bribe by a vehicle manufacturer, and has proof of the offer in the form of tapes. However, what is likely is that the CBI, the Central Bureau of Investigation ( more correctly known as the Congress Bureau of Intimidation) will doctor and destroy the tapes given to them, so as to enable well-connected fixers and lobbyists to escape. The CBI is unlikely to undertake a genuine probe into what may be called India’s Armsgate scam, for fear of angering politicians at the very top of national life.

In India, an “honest” government is that where only 50% of decisions get auctioned to the highest (illegal) bidder, while the rest get taken based on official perceptions of public need. A “crooked” government is where 70% of decisions get auctioned and only 30% get taken for reasons of perceived public interest. In Sonia Gandhi’s India, the estimate is that the central government auctions 90% of decisions,leaving only 10% to be decided on grounds of merit. It is this intolerable spike in corruption that has finally roused a usually somnolent public to fury. Of course ,the arms merchants and their beneficiaries are fighting back, smearing the names of whistle-blowers and using the legal system to file frivolous and vexatious litigation to stop them from uncovering or reporting on graft. General Singh is under attack not only by the riuling parties but by the Opposition. After all, when they were in power, they too fed at the same filthy trough as those on the ruling side are now doing. However, the tide seems to be turning against them. One after the other, facts are tumbling out. By standing up against corruption in the Defense Ministry, General V K Singh is helping to make India more secure.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.


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