September 18, 2020
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Lifted veil
Chopper scam: Honesty versus patriotism

Chopper scam has opened a Pandora’s box as how politicians, brokers, bureaucrats and Service personnel collide to jeopardize India’s national security interests while putting a veil of ‘honesty’ and ‘patriotism’.

It is like a game of ‘super honesty’ versus ‘smart patriotism’ in which all work in tandem but still remain unknown to each other. The scams in defence purchases have shown that neither the mask of honesty has any meaning, nor considering civilians as second class citizens by great patriots of armed forces has any significance.

Interestingly, it also gives a glimpse how India functions in reality, although officials often hide behind the supremacy of Parliament and boast about the rule of law for which numerous documents have been brought out like DPP and etc.

Indeed, rule of law in defence procurement is a façade. One cannot name a deal in which there would inevitably have no scam hidden beneath the surface.

Now the chopper scam has unmasked Defence Minister A K Antony’s honesty and Indian Air Force’s patriotism. The only difference is while one is in white, the other is in blue. The scam has exposed the systematic involvement and dereliction of duty at every stage, yet how state apparatus can be used to alter armed forces specifications.

There are few questions which Antony needs to reply as the scam is facing multiple probes at various ends. By resorting to a CBI probe, the government has secured little credibility as the CBI is another government agency having lot of discredit and a history of political misuse.

Ineffective honesty

Now, Antony’s problem is his political brand of honesty is at stake. Thus, Antony has to fight Antony. This is the worst battle one can ever fight, fighting the self. Antony has reportedly said that he was laid down by his team of officials.

The scam has proved that Ministry of Defence (MoD) does not need an honest minister who is ineffective and promotes corruption in some way or other.

Ever since Antony became Defence Minister more than a dozen high voltage scams have taken places and over two dozen defence tenders have been either cancelled or stalled. He may or may not have taken money, but Antony is politically immoral and intellectually dishonest.

Antony wants power. Only Congress Party can keep him in power as he has no mass base. In return, Antony will have to listen to the party managers who control events from behind. To say he was misled, it is naïve. There is no taker for that any more.

Antony keeps himself within the four walls of South Block as he fears if he is seen outside with undesirable elements then his credibility may go down.

That encouraged middlemen to look for other ways instead of directly approaching him. That suited Congress party in which money is made but honesty is promoted like a shield.  

This also suited Antony personally. He is the only powerful minister, after the Prime Minister, in the entire Cabinet whose portfolio has never been changed since assuming charge.   

Now coming to the scandal it is important to know whether the payment of vendor was cleared in a hasty and his officials had even threatened the Defence Finance officials with dire consequences.

Normally, the payment is made within 45 days of contract signed by the Principal Comptroller of Defence Account but in case of Agusta it was cleared in 3 days.

Most interesting point in the whole process of Agusta deal is that Sashi Kant Sharma is all pervading. The deal was initiated when S K Sharma was Joint Secretary-Air, then the deal was finalized when he was DG Acquisition.

Now the probe has been stalled for a year ever since he is Defence Secretary. Antony must find out who was delaying the probe at least in India despite it was public that bribes were paid in the deal.

On the top of it, why Defence Acqusition Council did not question this deal as it is their job to critically examine each deal.

Present scenario

A series of scandals since last two and half decades from Bofors guns to German HDW submarines, to South African Denel and the Singapore Kinetics and the Israeli Barak missiles, the Indian MoD in a knee jerk reaction always takes the ultimate step of throwing the sick baby out of the bath tub, without trying to resuscitate the baby.

The bribe paying companies are suddenly banned from having any links with Indian armed forces and the country.

The obvious result is that not only those particular weapon systems but the entire range of systems developed and manufactured by them, lose Indian defence market and the Indian defence forces are left in the lurch.

•    Antony needs to tell who put pressure on Defence Finance to release money urgently
•    All through the deal, S K Sharma was JS, then DG Acquisition and now Defence Secretary
•    A senior serving MoD officer has parked his kickback money in Brazil in a similar deal
•    Dissolve DAC as it has failed to detect scam
•    Who in MoD suppressed the initiative to probe the scam at least in India
•    Why Antony has not made public after probe who had stolen MMRCA document
•    Is there any role of his former advisor Sundaram Krishna?

Thus, the armed forces modernization is halted and the forces cry for early decision. The new acquisitions always get mired in political controversy and the government of the day does not gather courage to take fresh decision.

Considering the huge attractions of the Indian defence market, which promises almost US$100 billion in the next decade, it is natural for the international arms majors to look for a small share of a few billion dollars.

The Indian defence establishment should also be aware of the competition that Indian defence market poses and should take preventive steps to keep such unscrupulous elements away.

Since it is said that where there is a will there is a way, the MoD can ensure that no such bungling happens. But the political leadership lacks integrity and definitely wants a share in the deal, hence they would not encourage any transparency in the negotiations.

Thus, in spite of strict defence acquisition procedures, undue influences are allowed to be exerted and bribes paid through some third or fourth links to the influential personality.

Though the helicopter deal was under media glare since last one year, the Indian MoD did not find it necessary to start a suo moto enquiry by initiating the process of questioning the Indian persons named in the charge-sheet filed in the Italian court.

Only when the Finmeccanica CEO was arrested, the MoD swung into action, though vested interests in the government still are of the view that the deal should not be cancelled. The MoD had even said that there is no scam as far as India is concerned.

A country which is still reeling under the impact of budgetary cuts for the armed forces cannot afford to mid way stop the acquisition process which takes years to finalize and seriously compromises the forces deployment plan.

Though the MoD under the tutelage of so called ‘honest’ minister has devised very strict process to prevent murky arms dealers from coming in the way of very complicated arms procurement processes, the arms agents still find their way to penetrate the system.

This makes it clear that the arms acquisition system is still not foolproof. Hence the defence minister is now looking into other ways to discourage efforts to bribe concerned officials to win the contract.

Antony has suggested ways like speedy indigenization for this but this can only be a long term solution.

Even if the private sector is able to produce the high tech systems like the modern fighter aircrafts, who can guarantee that the defence acquisition will not be free of corrupt influences, simply because Indian private sector is in the fray?

And if the Indian private sector is found indulging in immoral practices to win the contract, what the MoD will do?

The integrity pact will ensure that the Indian private sector will also be banned. Then who will supply the arms to the Indian forces?

Antony has prescribed a formula-the armed forces, government, DRDO, the industry-both public and private-should come together in a mission mode so that the country can achieve maximum for indigenization in a reasonable framework of time.

Antony also gave an assurance that government will provide all support required to support the objective. With this view the MoD will also take a second look at the defence procurement procedure and the defence production policy so that the industry can take more interest in defence production.

But the country is facing imminent security challenges and the armed forces need to be equipped with weapon systems which can deter India’s enemy to launch any preemptive attack on the country.

They certainly cannot wait for the Indian defence sector to emerge and take care of India’s defence needs almost independently.

But the remedy suggested by the Defence Minster to prevent unethical practices in defence deals is worse than the disease.

Simply cancelling the deal and banning the company from maintaining future relations will only harm the security interests of nation. The Government will have to devise some effective ways to severely punish the corrupt arms manufacturers and continue with the acquisition process.