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National Interest: Our bigger defence scandal

Feb 16 2013, 01:47 IST
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SummaryWe blacklist half of the world and our private sector — and get dirty with a dozen choppers

The only positive aspect of the Finmeccanica helicopter deal is that investigating it conclusively may be easier as, unlike Bofors, where holier-than-cow Sweden did nothing and even got a major New Delhi avenue named after Olof Palme, here the supplier country is investigating.

Further, if bribes are traced to any Indians, they must get the swiftest punishment in fast-track courts and, in any case, the money must be recovered from the suppliers by invoking the integrity pact. You can’t see what defence they would have when their own government has charged them with bribery. But this is where the issue begins to get complicated.

Should you then immediately cancel the deal and start searching for VVIP helicopters yet again? That may take another 6-9 years (as AgustaWestland did in spite of the “bribes”). So complicated is our system. Meanwhile, our prime minister, president and other such seriously threatened species will continue to fly decades-old

Mi-17s that are so unprotected that one of them was brought down by the odd Naxalite bullet in Chhattisgarh just the other day. Yet you may have no choice. There is far too much muck flying. This government does not have the nerve to nuance its response by separating the machine from the bribe, or the classic baby and the bathwater.

The problem is, this helicopter deal is not the only one to suffer such a fate under the UPA. In fact, while important for VVIP protection, it is not a deal of any great military urgency. Think, on the other hand, of the more serious programmes that have been put in cold storage at the mere whiff of scandal. The army’s desperate quest for modern artillery has stalled as almost all the key suppliers, from Germany to Israel to Singapore, have been blacklisted. Some key missile and radar programmes are stalled as some of the Israeli giants have been blacklisted. If the Guinness Book had an entry on the number of armament suppliers blacklisted, it will be UPA 2 forever.

WITH a complex, elaborate, multi-layered and idiot-proofed mechanism, and with the shoot-from-the-hip use of the CBI and blacklisting, the UPA has developed a defence purchase system that can probably be described as wrapped in latex. But what has it achieved? This approach breeds indecision, fear, suspicion and a you-cover-my-backside-and-I-will-cover-yours mindset. The best it can do is create a situation where, the moment stuff hits the

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