Friday, February 15, 2013

Canceling chopper deal a typical Indian over-reaction

The Indian government has decided to cancel the chopper deal. It makes no logical sense to cancel the deal, except of course to shed any political baggage that may accompany it’s continuance. Our entire “system” – the destructive politics, the irresponsible media, the “bureaucratic” bureaucracy, and the politicized “institutions” (read CAG etc) – will be responsible for putting the country behind by 14 years if the deal is canceled. But of course, who cares for such minor issues?

Just consider how much time it took us to place the order. It was in 1999 that the Indian Air Force (IAF), tasked with the protection of political VIPs first requested for a new chopper. The ordering process then went through all sorts of “cover your ass” steps. There are Field Trial teams and Staff Evaluation reports and Tech Oversight Committees and Contract Negotiations Committees followed by the Cabinet Committee on Security and in many cases the full cabinet. There are innumerable custodians like the IAF, the NSA (national security advisor), PMO, SPG and of course the MoD (Ministry of Defence). There are also ORs (Operational Requirements), AON (god knows what that means), RFP (Request for Proposals) and SQRs (god knows what that means) to grapple with. How much time did this entire rigmarole take? In the chopper deal, just 14 years.

One could be excused for thinking that such an elaborate procurement system would deliver the cleanest (of corruption stains) and most efficient (best chopper) results. But no, most defence deals are embroiled in controversies. If the current mood is anything to go by, there must be an automatic plan to hand over all defence deals to the CBI and the CAG. Because whether we like it or not, all purchases, no matter how much procedure is followed and how much time taken, will necessarily be accused of favoritism, corruption or worse.

Not so long back, Praful Patel, the then Minister for Civil Aviation, who did exemplary work in modernizing Indian airports was grilled for ordering new aircraft for Air India “at double quick” speed. One would think that maybe he took the call overnight, or within a week, or even a month. No. His double quick speed translated to some 17 months or more. That was too fast by Indian standards.

And since most government officials and politicians are assumed corrupt, the first conclusion we jump to is that someone made money. Even in the absence of any evidence, the conclusion is “must have made money”. And the new lingo these days to describe how much money someone made, crafted by the BJP with all its solid experience with the matter, is “mota maal”. The problem is that when we accuse everyone of corruption, there is no incentive left for anyone to remain honest. Any government official is going to think “What the hell. I am going to be called corrupt anyways. Might as well make some money on the side”. There is also this recent phenomenon of “exposing” (actually wrongly accusing) people who have retired – not sparing even scientists who brought glory to the country, as we saw in the S-band spectrum “scam” (the Antrix case – which the CAG messed up by comparing S-band with 3G). Wait and watch. No one will want to join the government in the future. The pay is pathetic. Everyone is assumed corrupt. And there is no peace even after retirement.

All this may be quite “expected” in a democracy, especially developing ones like India. What really makes all this profoundly disastrous is the media, especially TV media. We have too much media. There are some 300+ news channels. As per industry experts, more than 75% of these are not even there for “business reasons”. They exist for purely power play. How can we have so many channels? Is this what media “independence” means? What about the concomitant media “responsibility”. What about the habit of our TV anchors (one in particular) to “pronounce judgments” as if they were in a court of law? What about this “breaking news” phenomenon where news is put out first and verified later? What about “competitive sensationalism”? And what about the political biases? A newspaper in the South is so pro-DMK that it blanked out all of Raja’s 2G shenanigans (I am told the editor was seeking a Rajya Sabha nomination from the party). An editor of an English newspaper is a spokesperson of the BJP. Most editors are pro-Congress or pro-BJP. And then this trecherous habit of not disclosing the real identities of people. Swapan Dasgupta should be called “BJP ideologue” or “Friend of BJP”, not “senior journalist” and Meenakshi Lekhi should be called “BJP women’s wing VP” or whatever and not “senior lawyer”. Our media is truly the most shameful aspect of our democracy. It may be independent, but it is not responsible.

It is this irresponsible media that is the reason why the chopper debate has focused on inanities. It was first “who changed the tech specs” as if changing the specs was a crime. Then it moved to “who placed the orders” and not “were the processes followed”. Then it was “the delay in ordering the probe” when the truth is otherwise. Then the bizarre specificity of “Italy”. Then the political rhetoric of “Bofors 2”. And now this “whose family is it” charge from the BJP. If the  BJP has an answer, let it provide us with it. In reality, the BJP is not interested in the answer. It never has been. It is interested in asking questions – especially those that caste aspersions on others. Like someone said last night “maybe that family is Vajpayee’s” (his foster son in law Ranjan Bhattacharya was quite a wheeler-dealer). Such inane discussions on TV is what makes TV news channels such a joke.

Coming to the chopper deal, what is the need for canceling the deal? No one is doubting that the process followed was perfect and the chopper is the best for us. If we cancel the deal, we will take another 10 years to order the next chopper. This won’t give any relief to the government either. Someone will make a claim (and media will no doubt amplify it) that the government came under pressure from the US (they must be the ones celebrating). And if India does indeed end up buying the American Sikorsky, then the cacophony will only become worse. And what if we lose another PM or CM to a terrorist attack when he/she is being ferried by air? There will be even more cacophony then. Then everyone will scream that the deal shouldn’t have been canceled. The government can never go by media or opposition views. It will end up chasing its own tail.

What the government should do is recover the bribe monies from Finmeccanica. They should impose financial penalties on them. If they did this, they would still send a message to prospective vendors that they mean business. But by canceling the deal, they make vendors nervous. It spoils our reputation. And they should of course take action against whoever is found corrupt. That will send a shudder down the spine of those contemplating corruption.

The real truth is that destructive politics and irresponsible media (especially TV channels) – in addition to pathetic speed of decision making – will yet again jeopardize India’s defence. The choppers may not be core to India’s defence needs….but why should we believe that the same attitude won’t be demonstrated when the next scam breaks out? The decision to cancel the deal is a wrong one….

1 comment:

  1. The Fall of the great democracy -financially, morally, respectfully, internationally, mainly due to the most shamefull, irresponsible,Misleading, trigger happy in character assassination, "Indian Media". Every deal or action is considered corrupt & every person other than a journalist or may be an activist is considered corrupt.No efforts at all are made to find out the real truth behind the more often than not concocted motivated allegations....PILs are misused and filed solely for vendetta or blackmailing purposes without any public interest except for the few "sensation seekers" in media or NGOs! No efforts are made to clear the facts before assassinating characters...and if the investigations come out to be different from the concocted allegations...they are all too happy to cry foul.They are worse than any dictator...they want people...common Indian Citizens ...most very innocent, to be Hanged just because the Anchors sitting in their cushy chairs FEEL that way. Actual incidents of blackmailing and extortion by the media fellows is suppressed completely or meakly reported as mere aberrations in the sea of God Sent Journalists...journolists who put the words like Journalism, Integrity and Ethics to SHAME.and further they are kept happy by organizations, individuals and parties looking for some positive publicity...!Only GOD can save this Great Nation from the Plague of Indian Media. We need a strong honest and spinefull govt to deal with these incorrect and terrorizing media practices.Only if the media is made to follow the correct ethics and not allowed to assassinate charecters and are made to report only very very responsibly, will some sanity prevail in our society. Jai Hind