The allegations of a scam in the Rafale deal have grown shriller after former French president Francois Hollande claimed that the Indian government “proposed” Reliance Defence as an offset partner for Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale jets.
ThePrint asks– Rafale, Bofors, AgustaWestland: Why is every Indian defence deal hit by scam allegations?
Military stuck with vintage equipment because of politics over deals
Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda (Retd)
Former General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command
The entire defence procurement process is extremely bureaucratic and long-winded. Starting with the request for proposals, to setting the requirements, to the trials—the process is too long. The long-winding process may give the companies an impression that financial lobbying can expedite the procedure. India, unlike many other countries, hasn’t legalised arms brokers. The industrial partners from foreign countries then try and see how they can explore the Indian system and work their way around it. Invariably, certain payments are made in this regard. Because this is illegal, it always takes a wrong turn. Also, companies which don’t get selected end up lodging complaints of wrongdoing.
The General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR) are made by the defence sector. Sometimes, the requirements are set in such a way that it tends to favour a certain vendor. This was one of the allegations made in the AgustaWestland case.
Then, of course, there is the politics of it. Political parties use these major deals to score points against one another. This makes it appear as if there is immense chaos in the system. We definitely need to make the process more efficient and transparent but also ensure that we don’t let hushed whispers and complaints make us look at everything with suspicion. So many of our defence deals have been cancelled because of this and we are stuck with vintage equipment. We need to properly assess what our national security requirements are and go ahead with them.
Defence deals involve competing industrial interests & end result is often controversy
Chief Editor, Delhi Defence Review
Defence procurement is a complicated, multi-step process wherein several factors end up playing a role. But the nature of the dealings is such that the process cannot be made any less complicated. What instead can be done is that the process can be made more transparent.
The endless cycle of allegations and counter-allegations can only be done away with if there is greater transparency. Most major defence deals are meant to boost the country’s defence industrial sector and involve items high value. As a result, allegations of favouritism crop up.
The system innately lacks transparency – regardless of which party is in power. As these deals typically involve competing industrial interests, the end result is often a controversy. The government of the day must ensure greater transparency, especially on the financial side of the things.
Just because something is politicised, doesn’t mean that there is an actual scam
Lt. Gen. (Retd) Prakash Menon
Director of strategic studies, Takshashila Institution
The scam allegations against major defence deals are a consequence of many factors—the lack of transparency being an important one. But in my opinion, what carries the greatest weight is the weaponisation of these deals in political terms.
Every political party benefits from giving these deals a certain political valence, especially if they are able to indict their opposition on the charges of corruption. Defence deals happen to be one of India’s biggest and most important of deals—so it helps political parties to use them as tools.
But one cannot negate the lack of transparency. The more the governments try to explain themselves, the more questions they give birth to. The only thing one would want to hide in these deals is the operational details. I am not sure if certain details actually need protection or are being shrouded unnecessarily.
Parties benefit from tarnishing one another through these scam allegations. Just because something is being politicised, doesn’t necessarily mean that there is an actual scam. None of this is in India’s interest. One can only hope what happened with Bofors doesn’t end up happening with the Rafale deal.
By delaying procurement, we are helping our enemies without any reason
The amount of money involved in the procurement of defence products is huge, and this can be seen in the budget outlay we have for defence procurement.
In India, we are so engrossed with politics that we tend to look at every deal with suspicion and try to make a mountain out of a molehill for political one-upmanship. While doing so, political parties forget the image of the country, the need of its defence forces, and the urgent requirement of that particular defence product.
In the case of Rafale, it’s no different.
This deal goes way back to the previous government’s time. Everyone in the government, past or present, knows very well that the price, specification and other details cannot be shared publically because of various reasons. There is always a non-disclosure agreement when these deals are signed. And yet, the party in opposition plays on this one thing.
The citizens of India do not understand the game, and they start believing that there is a scam. I would not deny that scams did not take place in the past, but the chances are almost nil in a government-to-government deal. In the process, we delay the procurement, bring a bad name to our country and also bring down the morale of defence forces, thus helping our enemies without any reason.
By Fatima Khan, journalist at ThePrint. You can follow her on twitter @khanthefatima.