I had written a fortnight back that the 16-billion dollar deal for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft is unravelling. This is exactly what is happening, as the latest developments indicate — with Defence Ministry officials raising questions about the manner in which the decision to award the contract to France’s Dassault was taken.
This is an opportune moment for Defence Minister A.K.Antony to have a rethink about the MMRCA project on the whole. Is there a niche that France’s Rafale aircraft is urgently required to fill in? If there is, do we need to introduce an entirely new weapon system, or can we do with buying more of what we already have? Besides, can it be that by expediting India’s joint programme to develop a fifth-generation stealth aircraft, the air force’s need can be met?
At any rate, putting the MMRCA back on the track is going to be time-consuming and complicated. The political credibility of the transaction has been badly affected. Dassault’s western competitor Eurofighter is certainly going to raise a lot of noise to try to come back into the consideration zone. Besides, Uncle Sam is also waiting to see if a lateral entry can be made into the MMRCA project with his F-35 fighter aircraft, which is being developed. The US badly needs funds for developing F-35 and India’s participation will make the project viable.
The western arms manufacturers are capable of squabbling like mad when it comes to lucrative deals such as the MMRCA. France, Britain and the US may be allies alright, but money is money and everything is fair in securing business. In sum, we are going to witness a mad scramble in Delhi with all these protagonists jumping into the fray — that is, if they haven’t already played a role behind the scenes in instigating a reopening of the award of the contract to Rafael.
This is becoming a Greek tragedy. That all this has to happen under the stewardship of Antony is the tragedy. Without doubt, Antony is a rare statesman of impeccable integrity. Antony’s mistake lies in his naive faith in his capacity to clean up the Aegean stables without realising that the odds are heavily stacked against him. The manner in which the army generals are slinging mud at each other and shouting each other down resembles the high drama in a fish market.
There are interested parties who will exploit the present climate to train their guns on Antony. The heart of the matter is that Antony hasn’t exactly been the darling of the western arms companies. He also annoyed the United States with his dogged refusal to sign the pending agreements on logistics, etc. A motivated campaign against Antony is just round the corner.
But this campaign should be firmly countered. Antony is not the issue here, This is not even a matter of civilians versus the military. It is military versus the military. Army chief V.K.Singh’s abominable conduct underscores that cleaning up the mess in the armed forces is going to be a long haul. No matter the right or wrong of the issues involved, Singh should never have stooped to the level of a street fighter. He should know that he is destroying an institution that is sacred for the nation and to which he himself owes everything in his life.
Alas, the rot has set in deep. The crisis has snowballed and it is going to be extremely difficult to separate the strands of rampant corruption, breakdown in discipline, the lack of accountability and so on. The government is on the backfoot since sensitive matters of corruption have appeared. Antony should try to invoke his role model V.K.Krishna Menon while straightening out the quarrelling bunch of generals today.
The first thing Antony should do is to summon V.K.Singh to his office and ask him to go on leave. Today itself. We don’t want an army chief of this character. Maybe, the opposition party, BJP might try to make some political capital out of the removal of V.K.Singh but the public opinion will understand. Let V.K.Singh carry on his quixotic campaign as a general-on-leave rather than as an army chief.
On a broader plane, the events show up that as a rising power India stands on feet of clay. The hubris in the Indian strategic mindset has been vacuous, after all. There are no short cuts to greatness. The journey should begin with setting the house in order. China used to be the biggest buyer of arms. Then, some 10 years ago, it decided that it won’t do to keep buying, and China should instead develop and manufacture the weapons it needs. And China has gladly surrendered the number 1 rank as arms buyer to India through these past 10 years.
India is not facing the threat of an external aggression at the moment. This is an opportune time for Antony to turn his back on arms procurements from abroad and switch to indigenous development of weapons. BrahMos shows that we can do splendidly well if we want to. If China can do it, so can India. Antony’s lasting legacy should to be to seize the moment to clean up the rot and reorient Indian military’s modernisation programme by developing the country’s own capabilities.
– March 29, 2012