Defence scams: Why India continues to bank on foreign deals?

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Corruption is a great force for democratisation. A few decades ago, Bofors was a name which rattled Indians badly. A prominent political family, the nation's megastar and even the common people on the streets remembered the defence scam with horror. It was something that had scripted a change of course in the country's politics.

2013 AD. Bofors is just another term in India's national life. The average standard of our politics has deteriorated so much in the last two-and-half decades since the infamous Bofors that fresh scams do not touch our soul any more. We have disembarked from the moral high ground and familiarized ourselves with an unsaid slogan: "Gali gali mein shor hain, har neta chor hain".


There is no point in pinpointing the Congress only for all the ills. It has a lion-share of the baggage of corruption because it has ruled the country more than any other political front. "The latest VVIP chopper scam is the new Bofors for Congress" --- is an insignificant statement. Defence scam is a ordinary term today, the democratization of the corruption is complete.

Scams in India today are just subjects that the hungry media pursue with passion. It has become impossible for the establishment, investigative agency of the judiciary to settle these cases because their occurrences are too frequent. In the defence scams, no politicians have ever been convicted till today, starting from the jeep scam of 1948, the first in independent India.

But these defence scams reveal a bigger worry. In each of the scams, it is found that India has engaged itself with some foreign firm to fulfil its defence need while continued to under-estimate its own capacity to produce the equipment. It is quite surprising that a country, which is emerging as a major economic power in many other sectors and spending millions for its defence given the fact that it has a hostile neighbourhood, banks on buying everything pertaining to this sector. Between 2004-11, India in fact was the second largest buyer of arms with a budget of nearly 47 billion UDS. Only Saudi Arabia has a higher budget.

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Why India's defence deals mostly have foreign connection?

Why is India so over-dependent on defence procurement from abroad? Replying this question invariably makes us face another uncomfortable scenario and that is, the pathetic performance by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), an organization which is supposed to deliver on the nation's defence requirement. The defence ministry had sought a secret audit of the DRDO and the findings said that the organization was producing crap and overshooting deadlines and eating up excessive funds.

It was said that many of the projects were sanctioned without the required approval from the government, corruption and nepotism were abundant in the organisation's upper wings and that qualified scientists were deserting the DRDO in hordes.

The panel led by Dr P Rama Rao gave 28 recommendations on reforming the DRDO's functioning but its report revealed such shocking facts that it was immediately shelved. Retired Commodore Uday Bhaskar, former head of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, had said to an English daily that the government, through such action, proved that it was not bothered by the decay in the crucial organization which has been letting down the nation for a long time now.

What's the point then running after a Quattrochi or Orsi when our own defence research organization is in a mess? Charity begins at home, the old-saying makes a perfect observation.

Why doesn't India emphasise on a clear home record on defence production?

The question is: If India can transform itself from manufacturer of the Ambassador car into a major automobile hub, then why not it achieved a similar standard in defence procurement? It is said that only 29 per cent of what the DRDO developed in the last 17 years has been used by the Army. The DRDO also reportedly bought equipment from other firms after spending crores in research and development. The DRDO has worked on developing automated idli and dosa makers, pickles, herbal product and car coolant to cater to military requirement but in terms of technology, there is no match between the standard used by the DRDO and that of China, for instance.

The INSAS rifles, for instance, betrayed with Nepalese soldiers when they attacked by Maoists, resulting in the death of many soldiers. The rifles also malfunctioned during the Kargil war of 1999. So naturally, the inclination is towards fetching better arms from abroad. Similar stories of mediocre performance have been reported in air and tank technology development.

Last year, on the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Indo-China war, Defence Minister AK Antony said India has come a long way in these 50 years as far its defence preparation is concerned. Has China remained where it was 50 years ago? The reality says while we have struggled to set a long-term plan in defence and just manages the day by buying arms, China has transformed itself from a top buyer into a top seller.

Defence scams are worrying for unlike a mining, telecom or sport corruption, they put the national security at risk. But do our leaders understand that? Perhaps not, for they are more than happy in politicising whatever that comes on their way. A business model of politics facilitates their cause.

Wondering from which corner of the globe will the country's next defence fiasco originate.

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