By Sushil Kutty
Tom Horn was a tracker of renegade Red Indians and cattle rustlers. He had powerful fists and was a marksman of note. Horn wrote his story and the publishers put on the cover the words ‘Written by Himself’. It was quaint. Now, there are lots of Indian stories, ‘Indian’ not ‘Red Indian’, but what if things told stories and publishers put it on the cover ‘Written by Itself’?
Like the Bofors story. Agusta Westland story. The Rafale story. Bofors roiled Indian politics for a long time. Those who could patch up a credible, closer to truth, story are all dead – Rajiv Gandhi, Win Chadda and Italian Quattrochi. Bofors has done good service to the artillery, proving its worth during the Kargil War, as the Pakistani intruders, some of whose bones are buried on Kargil heights, would testify.
The French Rafale jets are yet to contribute their bit to the Indian Air Force’s might. It’s said to be no less a fighter-jet than the F-35 and what have you in the Chinese fleet. But it will take time to take to skies in Indian colours because for years the Rafale was flown in by the Congress to mount sorties against the Modi government.
The Indo-French deal, struck first by the UPA-II government, was facing turbulence even before the Modi government stepped in with a deal of its own. The allegation post-UPA-II is that Modi sidelined his own Defence Minister to work out a lucrative deal for one of his “10-15” cash-heavy businessmen friends, crony capitalists.
The Congress alleged Modi was hiding behind a “secrecy clause” penned into the arrangement. Behind the allegation was the charge that a far higher price was paid for a Rafale jet than should have been. Hidden in the charge was the allegation that kickbacks accrued to interested parties, the standard Indian template for all defence deals with foreign arms suppliers.
There is nothing like a defence deal to raise suspicion of graft. Arms dealers in Armani suits are believed to be behind much of the world’s conflicts. It keeps them in business. And there are many Indians who are believed to be neck-deep in dubious, shady arms deals. Several of them retired defence personnel with knowledge of India’s defence requirements, their specifics, with tentacles running deep into the Defence Ministry and its multitude of arms.
Defence deals are prickly affairs. India is the largest importer of arms. Unlike Russia, China and the USA, all three of whom have an indigenously-made arms backbone, spine! Of the three defence arms of the Indian armed forces, the IAF is the most vulnerable because India has nothing of substance in as far as a defence industry of its own.
The IAF may boast of being the “top air-force’ on the planet but to fly high on borrowed wings, even if paid for, is fraught with risk. One, it takes time to arm and by the time a jet chosen is delivered a newer, more stealthier, sleeker version has taken to the sky! Two, it leaves in its wake a constant hunger to cannibalize. Jet-parts lose their edge and are hard to come by.
But ‘three’ is the worst – the ‘politics’ that dogs deals. Successive governments have not held back from politicising arms deals for partisan political ends. To believe that there are no crooked components to arms deals is to believe in God! But to make a spectacle of a good jet in Parliament, mount sorties on the government of the day, while IAF aces wait to engage in mock dogfights, is simply unacceptable.
Is there proof that the Rafale deal is crooked to the jet’s core? Show evidence. The political climate since May 26, 2014 has vitiated to such an extent that it will take more than proof to get the Rafale to fly. To a great extent it has to do with the personalities involved – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
Both hate each other. There is no respect in the equation. Modi looks at Rahul as an upstart, ‘there’ only because he’s a ‘dynast’, a ‘Naamdar’, not worth the time to sit across the table and tell secrets. Rahul Gandhi in turn sees in Modi an interloper, somebody who doesn’t have a leader’s track record.
The two act and talk as they could do without the other around. Their armies of trolls are ever present to crank up the feeling. Add to that the fact that Modi is kind of a very secretive person. He seems to like the enigma that surrounds him. People are told he works 18-20 hours but nobody is sure.
He doesn’t seem to be hobnobbing with business tycoons. But there are occasional Jio-like beeps. Ambani and Adani are always within whisper distance to feed the feeling that for all his grassroots upbringing, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is quite comfortable in elite surroundings. He seems sold to private enterprise.
But for Rahul Gandhi calling out Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, details of the Rafale deal wouldn’t have been rolled out. Tuesday, TV news channels, surgical strikes-like, produced documents to prove Rahul Gandhi was wrong that the government paid Rs 1,600 crore per Rafale jetfighter. In fact, less was paid.
So, why couldn’t the government clear that up before? Why keep the country on tenterhook and waste crores of rupees in wasted Parliament hours? The answer to that is in the Prime Minister’s personality. He is one who doesn’t choose timing. He’s the kind of man whose silence is more paralyzing than a Manmohan Singh-tongue-tied. Everything about his government leaks.
So, Rafale will fly, but when? Till the other day, only rumours flew! A correct reading of Modi’s rule and Rafale will be possible only if a publisher can persuade him to tell his story and carry on the book-cover ‘Written by Himself!’ (IPA Service)
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