Friday, November 24, 2017
An Indian Roorback
There is an American political phenomenon called a “roorback” which is a false and damaging report circulated for political effect during an election campaign. In the American context it has been always about a certain candidate. In India, a larger democracy, it’s scope has been widened to hurt a political party, a false report about some alleged corruption based on no evidence and contrived statistics circulated in the final days of Gujarat election campaign, timed for climactic effect when in the heat of the campaign the victim will not be able to expose the fraud before the voters go to the polls. The current controversy cropped up suddenly from the “emergency purchase” of 36 French Rafale Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft. The Indian Air Force requires 42 fighter squadrons to achieve optimal capability, and was falling short of this. The proposal to buy 126 fighter aircraft was mooted during Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. During 2000-2012 the fleet had declined to 34 squadrons due to obsolescence. The RFP for procurement of 126 MMRCA was issued in 2007, but the final decision to order got delayed for another 10 years till the recent decision to buy 36 of them in a fly-away condition,
The Modi government insists that it got significantly better terms than those quoted in the original bid under UPA, with a total reported saving of more than 1600 million Euros (350 million Euros on the cost of aircraft with a further reported saving on weapons, allied maintenance and training package amounting to a around 1300 million Euros or Rs 12,600 crores). According to the Government, the present IGA was signed purely between two sovereign governments and no private individual, firm or entity was involved in the process from the Indian side. Under the current agreement, the 36 Rafale jets procurement offset proposal supports the 'Make In India' initiative of the Indian Government through Article 12 of the IGA. The Offset proposal also includes provisions for transfer of sophisticated design technology which is meaningfully superior to the licence manufacturing on offer in the earlier discussions by the UPA government. Dassault states that they will facilitate the implementation of 'Make In India' by the industrial supplier notably through offsets for 50% value of the supply protocol.
It is not financially prudent to negotiate for “transfer of technology” when the “emergency procurement” deal is only for 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition, and when the capability of the PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is highly suspect in the manufacture of sophisticated jets according to such a technology transfer. Technology transfer has been so far a mirage, resulting only in a huge fee for an agreement which so far has not initiated any serious manufacturing activity, except some “modification” for the MIG fighters, and none for the Dassault Mirage2000, the original deal for which when signed, the “intention to proceed” contract was for an initial order of 40 aircraft for outright purchase in fly-away condition and an option to produce another 110 aircraft in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited with total technology transfer. We dropped that MoU and proceeded to contract MIG 29, at the cost of Rs.91Cr per piece, much less than the Mirage 2000’s. In 2011,the UPA government had signed a Rs 10,947-crore contract to upgrade its entire fleet of 51 Mirage 2000 fighters to extend the life of ageing fighters - acquired in the late '70s and early '80s by another 15 years – nearly 215Cr a piece! Remember, the Cost of the new aircraft to IAF was about Rs.130Cr.
Those who sat on the Dassault Rafale deal for 13 long years and have also a record of kick-backs in every possible defence deal have no right to pick holes in the Raffale deal! The HDW submarines deal, the Bofors Howitzers deal, the Scorpene-class submarines deal worth US$ 6 billion with Thales, France, Choppergate involving purchase of AgustaWestland “VIP helicopters”(bribes to be paid out, divided as "AF" €6 million, "BUR" €8.4 million, "Pol" €6 million and "AP" €3 million”), and so on. Take the single largest procurement of an aircraft carrier for Indian Navy, considered also the biggest “military industrial nightmare”: Originally built as Baku and commissioned in 1987, the carrier served with the Soviet Navy and later with the Russian Navy as Admiral Gorshkov and was decommissioned in 1996, and was bought in 2004 by the NDA government, for free, but the refit to cost Rs 4,881.67Cr (USD 974). After several hikes under threat from Russia, the price was increased to USD 2.35 in 2010. The CAG criticised the fact that the ship rechristened as INS Vikramaditya was a second-hand warship with a limited life-span, 60% costlier than a new one! Retired Admiral Nadkarni noted that a Spanish yard could build such a ship for about Rs 3,000 crore, and the Koreans would modify a merchant ship to a utility carrier with a flattop for Rs 500 crore and deliver it in 18 months! As with all our defence contracts with Russia which had consistently suffered delays and cost overruns, the ship completed sea trials in July 2013 and aviation trials in September 2013 and joined the Indian Navy on 16 Nov 2013 at a total cost of Rs.19141Cr (USD3 billion) almost 4 times the original price at which it was contracted! Meanwhile, Commodore Sukhjinder Singh, a Naval Officer supervising the refit of the carrier as the principal director for the project was discharged from service for his “moments of indiscretion” on job!
A “national” newspaper with a Leftist agenda had published a report a couple of weeks back, in which it quotes “sources” telling it that India has already informed the French that “not a single” Rafale will be bought in flyaway mode they will be built in the Dhirubhai Ambani Aerospace Park, run by Reliance Aerospace Ltd and Dassault Aviation in the Mihan Special Economic Zone in Nagpur! If Dassault Aviation in their commercial wisdom sets up a joint venture with Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence, the Government of India has no business to mind it, because it is not a part of any offset contract which incidentally, is yet to be negotiated!
The Congress party tried to make a case against the Modi Government’s deal saying that there is no mention of “transfer of technology "USSR allowed India the manufacture of the MiG-21 under licence, but since 1963, all told, 205 MiG-21FL were built in India, of which only 196 were built entirely in India before obsolescence caught up with it! It was the delay in signing an agreement for the Rafale fighters during A K Antony’s tenure as MoD that forced the Indian Air Force to use its MiG-21 Bison with a high rate of crashes. (More than 170 IAF pilots were killed in MIG-21 crashes for which the Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin blamed use of spare parts bought from unauthorised sources!) Having realised the fallacy of local manufacture, the IAF opted for the expensive modifications and refitting of the old Russian fighter jets. The 1980s decision to purchase the French Mirage-2000 “state-of-the-art” 110-150 jets was done by IndiraG, who was also MoD then, under wraps reduced to just 50 units on account of its high cost. What happened to the deal involving “transfer of technology” clause under which the French would assist in setting up the props for the eventual, manufacture of 70 of the aircraft in HAL's Bangalore set-up could be easily guessed! One of the most virulent critics of Modi administration has pointed out that “A.K. Antony, our most risk-averse, most anti-US defence minister since 1991, ended up buying more from the US, and directly, on government-to-government basis and off-the-shelf (C-130s, C-17s, P-8Is) than in our entire independent history.” He blames the former rulers for painting the country into such a corner, weakening its strategic posture, and eventually leading the present government to make possibly a $5 billion purchase off-the-shelf in a wartime-like haste, while paying kind of backhanded compliment to Narendra Modi for his decision to order Rafale jets off-the-shelf as wise and brave, like a senior doctor risking immediate surgery to save a deteriorating patient.
Since the historic 2014 elections that made the BJP the largest party capable of forming the Central Government on its own, shrank the Congress party to less than 50 seats in the Lok Sabha, and took away the CP(I)M’s status as a “national party”, decimated the once powerful caste combination in the north India, the Opposition parties have been running like headless chicken. Narendra Modi had won elections by removing the issues of religious and caste distinctions as well as the regional politics and replacing them an agenda of development, and corruption-free governance. In the last three and a half years, neither the Opposition nor a controversy-driven and hostile media were able to raise serious questions about any corruption by either the Union Government or the BJP-run State Governments. So they have been left with silly and concocted stories of a “hate speech” by a Sangh Parivar leader here, a skirmish involving Gourakshaks there, and generally about Fascist “intolerance” in the country without any substantial issue that concerned common people! In Kerala it was accusing the Prime Minister of defaming the people of Kerala; the last campaigns were closed with ineffectual propaganda full of wild allegations against the palpably transparent ant-corruption policy, the Demonetisation.
The Congress Vice President RahulG, who is yet to find something sensible to speak about anything or against the BJP and Modi government now alleges that he had information about "personal corruption" involving Modi! He had threatened earlier that he will present the “explosive” stuff in the Parliament, but didn’t speak about the Demonetisation about which he now finds corruption, ignoring that when Prashant Bushan went to the Supreme Court with the request for a probe, the Apex court threw it out of the window, saying it was all unsubstantiated allegations. The latest trick employed by the Congress and other Opposition parties is to plant kick-back stories in web magazines and insignificant players in the media about the purchase of Rafale fighter jets from France. The Wire, a Leftist magazine is in the forefront of the calumny against Narendra Modi and his government. It is already in a defamation case for spreading false news about BJP President Amit Shah’s son Jay. These people are trying to turn the table against BJP in the Gujarat election, trying to sabotage the Party’s and it’s leaders’ reputation as corruption-free. I am sure they will draw a blank again, and suspect this time around, it will be a very costly gambit for them!