Friday 30 March 2012

Gen V K Singh uncovers Armsgate Scam (PO)

By M D Nalapat
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.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

CBI likely to whitewash Armsgate scam (Sunday Guardian)

By Madhav Nalapat

o the Intelligence Bureau,the Income-tax department and other agencies have information about the possible "sutradhars" behind the Armsgate controversy? And if so,will the CBI ensure that this input forms part of their investigation into the scam? The jury is still out as to whether the agency will actually investigate charges against identified lobbyists of foreign military hardware manufacturers,or do what it does best,present a whitewash by misinterpreting and fudging evidence. General V K Singh's public comment that he was offered a Rs 14 crore bribe to continue the 26-year old contract to supply Tatra vehicles to the Indian army has upset a lobby close to successive Defense Ministries that opposes his suggestion that Indian manufacturers such as Ashok Leyland and Tata ought to be given a fair chance to win military contracts.These have historically excluded private domestic companies in favour of foreign players. Several thousands of RTI queries on defense procurement have gone unanswered, on the ground of "national security",when in fact transparency is what would best promote the national interest. Even after RTI,this has been avoided by careful selection by the government of retired officials to man RTI panels,and from which Civil Society has been almost entirely excluded. Ideally,non-officials ought to get the lion's share of RTI panel appointments, if retired officials are not to be allowed to judge whether the activities of former colleagues ought to see the light of day or remain in the darkness.
Had the CBI been a credible investigative agency,it would have opened a suo moto enquiry into the many requests for information on defense procurement that have either been rejected or not considered,and just whom such rejections and delays are benefitting.The entire field of defense procurement needs to be made transparent,if the country is to reverse graft in such purchases. Of course,those seeking to do that will face opposition,including in the form of vexatious and motivated litigation by interested parties,all of whom are expert at this form of deterrence.
Defense Minister Antony's faith in the CBI may,however,be misplaced. The way in which the agency connived to enable Ottavio Quatrocchi to escape justice in both Malaysia and Argentibna is well known,as is the fact that those directly responsible for this double fiasco have had rewarding rather than blighted careers subsequently. Under the circumstances,can the agency be expected to do an honest job of investigating the charges made by the Chief of Army Staff ? Although concerned agencies are themselves silent on this,there is credible information that the Intelligence Bureau,the Income-tax department and other agencies have data on the contacts and comforts of key players in this drama. However,should the CBI seek to protect rather than bring to book well-connected arms lobbyists,the agency is unlikely to ask such agencies for such input on individuals known to be active in facilitating defense purchases. Indeed,within such agencies ,there are individuals sympathetic to arms lobbyists,and who have in the past tipped them off of surveillance,advising them to be careful in their conversations and meetings. These hidden associates of arms lobbyists can be expected to destroy or conceal information about their friends in the industry, something that will be convenient for pliable CBI investigators,aware as they are of the high-level connections of several of those involved in suspicious contracts since the 1999 Kargil conflict. According to information available to military sources,several retired highest-ranking officers and their immediate families enjoy ifestyles out of all proportion to their pensions,while none of these worthies has thus far faced any pressure from agencies that are supposed to monitor graft and misfeasance.
Defense Minister Antony needs to check with not only the CBI but the Intelligence Bureau,the Income-tax department,the Enforcement Directorate and state agencies to cull out the complete facts on cliques of lobbyists who have been cheating the taxpayer and placing national security at risk by forcing through purchases of substandard equipment at inflated prices. A check on prices paid by Indian agencies and those of other foreign buyers would show the extent of the scam,except of course that locations such as in West Asia or Africa may purchase equipment at prices comparable to that paid by India,and for the same reason. What needs to be checked are prices paid by European buyers of such equipment,given the higher ethical standards of public procurement in that continent. Technical experts independent of procurement networks would be able to easily assess the exorbitant extra charges that have been levied in the guise of "improvements" that add little of value to the systems involved.
As for Lt-General Tejinder Singh,who is repeatedly finding mention in the media because of the allegations made by General V K Singh, the retired army officer has his work cut out for him if he is to dispel talk from North and South Block that link him to Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and to the latter's son,Karthik. North and South Block are buzzing with reports that Chidambaram tried to make Tejinder Singh the chief of the NTRO,in the process reportedly holding up the appointment for months.It is therefore hoped that the former army officer will clear his name by showing that he has no links with Chidambaram or his son,nor indeed with others with whom he has been linked by rumour and innuendo,namely a Major Hooda and his son,as well as a former DRDO employee who has gone around media outlets planting derogatory stories about the NTRO.
Lt-General Tejinder Singh may be victim rather than perpetrator,but for this to become clear,he needs to prove the falsity of allegations linking him to the Home Minister and to others considered close to Karthik Chidambaram,a personable young man who has scored a Double Century by being a success in both politics and business. Those who admire the Home Minister say that it is nonsense to allege that he or his son would descend to the murky world of defense contracts.The same sources also have a good word to say about Lt-General Tejinder Singh,whom they claim is an honest and capable former officer not guilty of General V K Singh'a allegations. The CBI can determine the truth behind the swirl of charge and counter-charge ,if the agency acts as the independent entity that professionalism mandates it to be. However,given the outcry within the political class of leaked details of military unpreparedness (despite huge foreign exchange outlays), this may be an optimistic scenario.Instead of welcoming facts coming to light,even Opposition parties are foaming at the leak rather than at those responsible for the sorry state of affairs in matters of defense.

Monday 26 March 2012

Nehruvians unite against Modi (Sunday Guardian)

Narendra Modi with Muslim supporters during his Sadbhavna Mission fast in Gujarat’s Panchmahal district last month. PTI
By Madhav Nalapat
All politics may be local, but business is global, and the business of Narendra Modi's Gujarat is business. An approach that has enabled Modi to ensure that practically all households in his state have access to (uninterrupted) electricity and power. A change from Gurgaon, where the (Haryana) state and Central treasuries get mounds of taxes that get repaid in the form of crater-filled roads, power shortages, water disruptions and an administration unbothered about anything other than raising cash for itself and for its political masters. Gurgaon shows better than anything else the disconnect between public administration and private in India, with skyscrapers needing huge dollops of diesel for power, and employees spilling over onto streets that war-ridden Afghanistan would be ashamed of.
Gurgaon represents Nehruvian India, a state where the sole purpose of the administration is self-perpetuation and the squeezing of surplus from citizens not privileged to be "New British", i.e. officials or politicians. It is a construct that has been embraced by both these groups, for the power it gives them over the lives of ordinary citizens. Just as British apologists for colonial loot talked of the "civilising" effects of the Raj, claiming that everything from railways to roads would never have come about but for them, India's post-1947 New British chatter incessantly about "democracy", a system whereby less than a dozen families rule over three-fourths of those elected to state and national legislatures. Talking to those whose workplace is atop Raisina Hill, it is difficult not to imagine that they consider themselves to be the rulers of a vast colony, which is the rest of India. That they, and they alone, have the right to decide matters that affect any state, any district. Indeed, that the rest of the country is simply incapable of self-governance.
Although India has gone the opposite way of Pakistan, where the share of minorities in the total population has fallen to less than a tenth of what it was pre-1947, this country has had its ethos shamed by repeated pogroms, whether of Dalits or of Sikhs or of Muslims, or even of "caste" Hindus. Delhi 1984 or Mumbai 1993 were inexcusable, as much so as the violence that stained Gujarat after the massacre of karsevaks in Godhra. None of the high-level policymakers involved in incidents previous to (or after) the Godhra riots of 2002 have faced the criticisms focused on Narendra Modi. The crescendo of hate that daily crests towards Modi may be partly based on the fact that Nehruvians are aware that the Gujarat Chief Minister represents their antithesis, in a way that Atal Behari Vajpayee or Jyoti Basu never could be. The only periods when a genuine non-Nehruvian became PM was when Morarji Desai and P.V. Narasimha Rao occupied that post. Both were subjected to vitriol by overt and covert defenders of the Nehru ethos, whether these be in politics or in academe or in the media.
Nehruvian ideology and methods are based on the implicit belief that the Raj was the best thing that ever happened to India, and that therefore its institutions, mindset and laws ought to be retained in their entirety. That the people of India are not mature enough to be trusted with superintending their own destinies, and therefore need to constantly check back with some minion or the other of the administration before being allowed to do even simple tasks. Simply put, the politico-administrative elite that replaced the British in 1947 are the only adults in the country, and the rest are just children. Small wonder that Indians have not been given the access to the internet bandwidth that others in Asia enjoy, or while Japan has 5G, India still crawls along with 3G, where that service is available at all. The choke points that the British erected succeeded in emasculating the Indian economy. The continuation of the colonial policy of excessive regulation ensures that India grows at a speed less than half of the 15% that the genius of its people would easily achieve, if only they were given the same conditions that are enjoyed by counterparts in other countries.
Enter Narendra Modi. All of him is Indian, none of him owes anything to Raj influences. Were he to ever become Prime Minister, he would be unlikely to go the Vajpayee way, accepting the Nehru model of governance, including in foreign and education policy, rather than ensuring that the country move on from the shadow of the British occupation. Modi wants the English language to spread in India, but not British attitudes. He trusts domestic industry and wants it to expand to foreign shores, rather than dwarf them in favour of foreign companies. Only in Nehruvian India can the civil servant who crafted the laws and regulations that enabled Vodafone to avoid paying nearly $4 billion in taxes on a wholly India-based transaction continue to enjoy his or her retirement. In a country less enslaved by its colonial past, the person would have been brought to account. In Gujarat, Modi has not followed the model of the man responsible for ensuring that Jawaharlal Nehru got anointed to continue the legacy of the Raj, but Vallabbhai Patel. Those who want to know what India would have looked like under 17 years of Patel need only go to Modi's Gujarat.
These days, internet fora gush venom on Narendra Modi, not by Muslim or Christian voices but by those who claim to be "pure" Hindutva followers. His destruction of roadside temples irks them, as does his refusal to give them a voice in administrative matters, the way Nehruvians always do. The post-Godhra riots were a huge blot, but thereafter, there has not been a single death due to communal — or caste — violence in Gujarat. As Chief Minister, Modi is now stressing the neutrality of the administration in matters of faith, which of course is very different from the Nehruvian polity, which incessantly tells the Muslim community — the strongest single group in the country and a force with powerful international resonance — that they are helpless victims rather than masters of their own fate. The Indian people are one, and deserve better than to be always told that each is different from the other. Ten years after Godhra, the state seems to have moved on, the way Mumbai did after the 1993 horror or Delhi after the genocidal attack on Sikhs in 1984. Should Narendra Modi ever become PM, he would consign to history the Nehruvian system as surely as Deng Xiaoping took China away from Mao Thought in the 1980s. Small wonder that Nehruvians across the world have united against him.

Sunday 25 March 2012

President Ansari will stabilise UPA (Sunday Guardian)

The Congress considers Hamid Ansari to be ‘reliable’. AFP
he Congress high command, comprising Congress president Sonia Gandhi and AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi, assisted by political secretary Ahmad Patel, is finding it difficult to reconcile overtures to the Samajwadi Party (SP) and its rival, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Given the backroom parleys taking place between Mamata Banerjee and elements of the NDA, Congress managers would like to have both firmly on its side. In practice, this means that neither can be offered concessions that would render the other hostile to the Congress, which is the reason why parleys with the SP over formally joining the UPA failed. Were the SP to become part of the ruling alliance, similar terms would need to be offered to the BSP.
As the SP would be satisfied with nothing less than the "DMK standard" of at least two Cabinet-level berths as well as three or four Minister of State slots, it would not be possible to similarly accommodate the BSP, unless some Congress nominees were dropped from the Council of Ministers. The Congress president is averse to surrendering any of the "navaratna" portfolios (such as Home, Defence, External Affairs and Finance), whereas SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav has indicated that he would not settle for anything less than the Defence portfolio or the Deputy Prime Ministership. Giving him the first is out of the question, given the numerous procurement deals awaiting finalisation, while conceding the latter would annoy Sharad Pawar, whose Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has thus far refrained from any tantrum and seems, as a consequence, to have been ignored even in decisions involving his ministry, such as the cotton export ban.
After discovering that the Congress would not concede his wish list, Mulayam has focused on the Left parties, hoping to recreate an alliance that has worked for him in the past. Thus, the CPI and the CPI(M) may finally be getting a post-2009 Lok Sabha polls role within the periphery of the ruling alliance, after having switched in 2011 from DMK to AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. Any further closeness between the Left and the UPA would further alienate the Trinamool Congress, for whom enmity with the CPI and CPI(M) is non-negotiable. Already, Trinamool leaders are wary of increased contacts between the Congress and the Left, a factor that is making them look once again towards the NDA as a future partner. This has been made possible because control of the BJP by the "moderates" represented by L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari has ensured that the Hindutva plank of the BJP has been discarded in favour of a platform promising "good and clean governance".
The Congress leadership is paying attention to ensuring that the balancing act between the SP and the BSP continues, even while it seeks to appease the Trinamool Congress.
Unfortunately for the BJP, events in Uttarakhand and Karnataka do not inspire confidence in the party's commitment to such a course, with B.S. Yeddyurappa likely to return as CM. Those active in the state unit of the BJP claim that the former CM had installed three currency counting machines in a Dollar Colony house, to ensure that the "payments made by individuals met the required specifications". However, this report is strongly contested by those close to the deposed BJP strongman. As for former Uttarakhand CM Ramesh Pokhriyal, there are reports that at least six Congress candidates were assisted in their campaign by his munificence, although thus far, no action has been taken by the BJP to investigate those charges.
he entry of former BSP minister B.S. Kushwaha into the BJP, now acknowledged as a mistake, had the sanction of key elements of the national leadership. Their logic was that "as forwards are anyway with the BJP, let us try and get the backwards in as well". Uma Bharti's inclusion in the UP campaign was part of this strategy, she being seen as a backward caste leader rather than as a Hindutva icon. The focus on the backward castes was a consequence of analysis of the damage down by Kalyan Singh to the BJP's Assembly prospects in 2002, where then Chief Minister Rajnath Singh and his party got humiliated in the Assembly polls, with a mere 83 seats, a figure that dropped to 51 in 2007. The party was hoping for a tally of at least 75 seats in 2012, because of the four-way contest and its new "backward" strategy. Instead, it ended up with just 47, even less than in 2007, and joining the BSP as the two parties that lost vote share to rivals. In Uttarakhand and Punjab as well, the BJP lost seats, from 36 to 31 and 19 to 12 respectively, because of the dilution in its "clean and good governance" image caused by the Yeddyurappa and Kushwaha episodes and by the infighting made possible by a weakened central leadership bereft of governmental power.
In its efforts to avoid a midpoll, the Congress leadership is relying on the lack of readiness of both the Left as well as the BJP to fight another general election. This lack of enthusiasm is clear in the Left, which is likely to get further reduced in numbers in West Bengal and Kerala, but is not as strong in the BJP. That party senses a mood of anti-Congressism that is percolating across at least the urban areas of the country, a factor that explained Congress losses even in Mumbai, a city where it had the benefit of alliance with the NCP and a ruling Shiv Sena-BJP combine widely seen as ineffectual in tackling the problems of the city. However, the BJP has yet to resolve who will replace A.B. Vajpayee as the standard bearer for national polls, with as many as four candidates on the shortlist of probables. These are Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Narendra Modi. Age has excluded L.K. Advani from the list, while his numerous missteps have severely weakened Nitin Gadkari within the BJP, even though he remains the favourite of RSS supremo Mohanrao Bhagwat. That Gadkari is a resident of Nagpur and a frequent visitor to the RSS HQ has added to his appeal to Bhagwat. Interestingly, however, even Modi is distancing himself from the Hindutva plank, focusing instead on "inclusive governance" and an avoidance of caste and communal tensions in his state. This move towards a platform that does not exclude the minorities is seen as key to the expansion of the NDA and its return to office by 2014.
The Congress is relying on the fear of early elections of the Left and sections of the NDA to prevent a meltdown before the 2014 polls. Such opposition is expected to overcome the disruptive effect of parties that may welcome early polls, such as the Akali Dal, the AIADMK, the Trinamool Congress and the SP. What needs to be kept in mind that within the BJP as well, there is a section that is calling for early Lok Sabha polls, as the party is expected to do well in Congress-ruled states such as Rajasthan and Maharashtra, besides hold its own in the Hindi belt. Once again, the focus is moving to the July election of the President of India. Should a candidate who can resist Congress blandishments get elected, the stability of the UPA would come under threat. The Congress leadership is, therefore, paying attention to ensuring that the balancing act between the SP and the BSP continues, even while it seeks to appease the Trinamool Congress. Once it gets a reliable candidate in as Head of State, such as current favourite Vice-President Hamid Ansari, the party high command will have greater freedom to manoeuvre.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Relying on others for national defence

By M D Nalapat
Sonia Gandhi likes to travel abroad, especially to Europe, and both she as well as her children do so on numerous occasions. The family also welcome numerous relatives from that continent, who come to stay with them in state-provided accommodation for long stretches of time. Such nostalgia for Europe is understandable, for after all, Sonia is herself a child of the world’s richest continent. What is less defensible is the manner in which the government dominated by her has placed the interest of overseas suppliers ahead of those of domestic manufacturers. Unlike the US or the countries of the EU, which always — repeat always — put the interest of home manufacturers and enterprises first, the Manmohan Singh government follows a policy of giving primacy to overseas interests. In the process, Indian interests fall by the wayside. The most recent example is the Commerce Ministry objecting to a proposal by the Department of Telecom to give a few preferences to domestic manufacturers of telecom equipment in the $20 billion market for such wares in India.

As expected, this recommendation generated a firestorm of protest from overseas manufacturers based in the US and Europe. What was unexpected is the way in which Commerce Minister Anand Sharna (who proudly advertises himself as being a “100 percent” follower of Sonia Gandhi) forced his ministry to object in writing to such a policy, even though the suggestion is similar to that followed by the very countries that influenced the Sonia supporters within the government to once again support foreign companies against Indian. Because of the opposition of the Sonia brigade, the Telecom Department is likely to fail in it’s efforts at ensuring that domestic manufacturers of telecom equipment rise in relevance from the present abysmal levels. From the 1990s,the interests of domestic industry have been ignored in favor of giving preference to foreign enterprises. According to senior policymakers, this is because key political dynasties in India “do not trust local companies to keep secret about the bribes deposited by them in Swiss and other banks”. Foreign companies “can be expected to keep secrets and hence are preferred over domestic entities”, is the claim. Small wonder that in almost every major procurement decision of the Government of India, it is foreign companies which claim the lion’s share, usually the whole of the cake. Swiss banks will be getting handsome inflows as a consequence of such skewed decisions. As for domestic manufacturers, they are so terrified of harassment by income-tax and other authorities that they silently accept whatever punishment is given to them. The use of the income-tax and other machinery to blackmail and threaten those objecting to corrupt policies is commonplace. Raids are frequent on those distant from the coterie of Sonia Gandhi, while those close to her are free of such worries. As most of those close to her have strong connections with foreign commercial and other interests, the result is a policy matrix that favors the foreign over the domestic.

Defense is the most egregious example of how policymakers in India have made the country an international beggar, reliant on foreign interests for core technologies and materiel. Whether it is weapons systems or platforms, more than 80 per cent is imported, at a huge cost that runs into the tens of billions of dollars, making India the biggest importer of defense equipment and supplies in the world. After spending hundreds of billions of dollars (and in the process, adding to bank accounts abroad), it is a reflection of the slavery to foreign interests that characterizes the Indian establishment that the country is unable to even produce a small aircraft without foreign collaboration. Contrast this with China, which is en route to producing a fifth-generation fighter aircraft while the Defense Ministry in India sill spend $15 billion on a French forth-generation aircraft (the Raffaele) that had yet tofind a single buyer outside France. The running costs of this aircraft will bankrupt the Air Force, just as the operating costs of the floating junkyard which is the Russian aircraft carrier will cripple the navy. Compare the costs paid by India for it’s Russian carrier and that incurred by China for it’s Ukrainian carrier, and the difference becomes obvious between a system that is based only on greed and that which looks to national interest. Years ago, this columnist favoured asking the US to gift India the USS Kitty Hawk. Had this been done, the giant aircraft carrier would have had at least 15 years more of active service, and would have been a much better option than the Russian vessel,” Admiral Gorshkov”, for which more than $3 billion is being spent by the taxpayer.

The Obama administration has the same India-phobic mindset as did the Clinton team, and if the current US President wins a second term in office, the next four years are unlikely to see any breakthrough in US-India defense relations, besides of course US suppliers of materiel joining Russia, France and Israel in making huge profits out of purchases by the defense ministry, which always prefers foreign companies and ignores domestic manufacturers, thereby making India dangerously dependent on external supply lines in the advent of a conflict.

The only silver lining is that the prospects for such a war seem remote. India, Pakistan and China are each aware of the harmful economicconsequences of war between themselves, and the civilian leaderships of all three countries can be expected to keep the peace. However, apart from self-sufficiency in times of war, another advantage of a strong domestic defines industry is that it can trigger a boost in research and development. A powerful domestic defines industry can result in technological up gradation across the board, to the benefit of the rest of industry. Of course, this can only be in a context where domestic manufacturers are encouraged rather than excluded. Should a future government in India reverse the “Craze for Foreign” ( to use V S Naipaul’s words) policies of the Government of India, then this country may follow China in developing a strong domestic R & D capability.

However, such a prospect seems distant. The Indian political class seems determined to amass wealth for itself. These days, the Gandhian example of simple loving has been forgotten, with 5-star luxury being the norm. The declaration of wealth made by politicians, although usually understated, show the change that has taken place in politics in India. Most ministers are millionaires, and quite a few are billionaires. Even the Leader of the Opposition, Arun Jaitley of the BJP, has declared his wealth at more than 30 billion dollars, owning up to a Mercedes and a BMW. Such symbols of luxury are now the norm in political families, who spend months abroad without anyone asking how the bills get paid. There was a time when Jaitley could afford only a bicycle, but in his case, it must be said that his impressive legal skills have earned him great wealth, just as it has for another legal eagle, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, who along with Jaitley is one of the best lawyers in India. These two may have earned their wealth legally, but in that, they are almost unique. Most of their colleagues have become rich through trading in favours, and to a degree that is sickening people across India.

Much of what is wrong in India can be traced back to corruption, whether it be bad roads, dirty hospitals, pathetic schools or miserable housing. The many suffer so that the few wallow in luxury. Clearly, this is not the democracy that is celebrated in textbooks, but another name for exploitation. Only a revival of a mass campaign for accountability can end this state of affairs, which has made India a hpy hunting ground for international arms and other merchants, even while domestic industry suffers from high interest rates, horrible infrastructure and the high costs associated with corruption.