General Singh uncovers arms procurement scam – M.D. Nalapat

Prof. M. D. Nalapat“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.” – Prof. Madhav Nalapat

 Suresh NandaDelhi 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, aging 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.

French fighter RafaleIn contrast, the Dassault Rafale (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 Rafale, save its captive market, France. Even the GCC countries, who are normally very obliging in such matters, have not touched the Rafale, despite strenuous 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 Rafale 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.

Tatra-Vectra Owner Ravi RishiIn 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 air conditioners 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 than 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.

Tatra Military VehicleAfter 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.

General V.K. SinghIn 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 ruling 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. – Pakistan Observer, Islamabad, 30 March 2012

Who is Lt-Gen Tejinder Singh? – Madhav Nalapat

Lt-Gen Tejinder Singh (L)Those involved in the making of purchases for security agencies under the Home Ministry or the PMO say that retired Lt-General Tejinder Singh, who has been explicitly accused by the Army of having floated reports that Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh spied on Defense Minister A K Antony, is not an unknown figure within the world of suppliers of equipment. One source said that Tejinder Singh “operates in tandem with a Major Hooda (retd) and his son, both of whom are well known to Karthik Chidambaram, the influential son of Home Minister P Chidambaram”. The younger Hooda, a presumed relative of the Haryana Chief Minister, is alleged to be “active in promoting the products of certain agencies, including foreign entities”.

Karti ChidambaramThese sources claim that Tejinder Singh was very close to a former Chief of Army Staff and that he “knows the incoming Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Bikramjit Singh, very well”. None of these claims could be verified, especially suggestions that such a link “could influence procurement decisions by the Army in the future”. General V K Singh is known to have had a series of battles with established cartels involved in military procurement, unlike some of his predecessors, who “played along with such elements”. That the incoming Chief of Army Staff has very powerful support within the UPA was made clear by the government’s decision to announce that he would succeed General V K Singh, even if the latter were to quit prematurely. It needs to be said that Lt-General Bikramjit Singh is widely regarded as a capable officer, with an excellent record in counter-insurgency operations.

Surprisingly, the CBI has thus far not shown any interest in investigating the many allegations that Lt-General Tejinder Singh, Major Hooda and others are involved in efforts to influence procurement decisions in the Home and Defense Ministries, besides those in NTRO, RAW and the Aviation Research Service. Reports of suspicious transactions in these agencies have been buried under a carpet of official indifference. By avoiding an enquiry, what has happened is that the miasma of suspicion that is hovering over the head of Karthik Chidambaram is continuing. Numerous sources allege “undue attention and interest” by the young politician in matters relating to equipment suggested as being needed for national security.

Gen. V.K. Singh (L), Defence Minister Antony & Lt-Gen. Bikram Singh (R)There is every likelihood that such charges against Karthik are false, and motivated by jealously at his swift rise in business and politics. However, given the clout of the Home Minister in matters relating to promotions of IPS officers, the inaction of the CBI has given rise to speculation about the agency’s motivation in rejecting an enquiry. Interestingly, a source claims that “one of the national security agencies of the Government of India recently asked for an enquiry into Hooda and Singh by both CBI and IB,” but to no avail, “as high-level circles shield the two” . The Army has finally come out in the open about the mysterious retired army-man, who moves in very influential circles in Delhi, and directly tied him to the ongoing – and vicious – campaign against General Singh. It needs to be added that Defense Minister A K Antony has thus far kept himself scrupulously away from this campaign, although he has endorsed the view that Lt-General Bikramjit Singh is the fittest officer to be the new COAS.

Lt-Gen. Bikram SinghSources tracking procurement within the services are, in the words of a senior officer, afraid that “once the new Chief of Army Staff takes office, enquiries initiated by General Singh may get discontinued,” thereby enabling officers guilty of graft and worse to escape. Hopefully, such a suspicion will be shown to be unfounded, come June 1, 2012, and that the new Chief of Army Staff will continue the house-cleaning initiated by his predecessor. General Bikramjit Singh needs to show that he is in the tradition of those fighting graft, rather than in that of certain predecessors who are known to have done the opposite. – Sunday Guardian, New Delhi, 6 April 2012

» Prof. Nalapat is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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