Impatience Seals Worst Possible Defence Deal

With the price negotiations meandering into the fourth year, an impatient Narendra Modi intervened, circumventing the elaborate Request for Proposal (RFP) system of competitive bidding under which the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal was initiated. The prime minister decided to purchase the Rafales “off the shelf” without transfer of technology at the government-to-government (G2G) level.

This was portrayed as Modi’s “out of the box” solution for a problem that didn’t really exist. Plainly, he mistook the hard, extended, bargaining between the two sides as evidence of red tape, and cutting it as his unique achievement. But impatience is a liability in international relations and can cost the country plenty.

Rather than pressuring French president Francois Hollande and the French aviation major, Dassault, which is in dire straits and was in no position to resist sustained Indian pressure to deliver the Rafale and the technologies involved in toto to India, Modi eased off, promising a munificent $5billion-$8 billion for 36 Rafales off the shelf minus any reference to the L1 (lowest cost) MMRCA tender offer, possibly a buy of another 30 of them, and no onerous technology transfer obligation.

It is a turn that must have astonished Hollande and Dassault with its exceptional generosity, surpassing in its muddle-headed excess Narasimha Rao’s handout of Rs 6,000 crore in 1996 to Russia to prevent the closure of the Sukhoi design bureau and production plant in Irkutsk, in return for nothing, not even joint share of the intellectual property rights for the Su-30MKI technologies subsequently produced there, which could have kick-started the Indian aerospace sector. Then again, India is a phenomenally rich country, don’t you know?—the proverbial white knight rescuing the Russian aviation industry one day, French aerospace companies the next.

But let’s try and see if sense can be made of Modi’s Rafale deal. Much has been said about the G2G channel as a means of securing low prices. The record of acquisitions from the United States in the direct sales mode, however, shows no marked drop-off in the price for the C-17s and C-130J airlifters and the P-8I maritime reconnaissance planes. But in terms of maintenance, almost all the 20-odd ANTPQ-36/37 artillery fire-spotting radar units bought by the army from the Pentagon, for instance, are offline due to the paucity of spares. Supplier states in this situation routinely manipulate the spares supply to configure politico-military outcomes they desire. No saying what France will do with respect to the entire fleet of IAF Rafales in the years to come. Usually, the practice also is to sell the platform cheap but rake in extortionist profit selling onboard weapons and spares. In any case, it is unlikely the price of a fully loaded Rafale will be less than $200 million each or $7.2 billion for 36 Rafales, $13 billion for 66 of these aircraft, and $25.2 billion for 126 planes.

Then again, French fighter planes have proved inordinately expensive to maintain. How expensive? According to a recent report by the Comptroller and Accountant General, in 2012-2013, for example, the total cost of upkeep of all 51 Mirage 2000 aircraft in the IAF inventory was Rs 486.85 crore compared to Rs 877.84 crore for 170 Su-30MKIs—meaning, the annual unit cost of maintaining a Mirage was Rs 9.5 crore versus Rs 5.2 crore for the more capable Su-30MKI. Now ponder over this: The cost of upkeep of a Rafale is authoritatively estimated at twice the cost of the Mirage and, hence, four times that of Su-30!

The “Super Sukhoi” avatar of the air dominance-capable Su-30 entering IAF is equipped with the latest AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar permitting the switching between air-to-air and air-to-ground roles in flight, and which radar will be retrofitted on the older versions of this plane in service. In the event, in what combat profile exactly is the Rafale superior?

The defence minister Manohar Parrikar was partial to the Su-30 option, having publicly stated that it was more affordable—its procurement price half that of a Rafale, and that owing to improved spares supply condition, its serviceability rate would rise to 75 per cent by year-end, exceeding that of the Mirage, incidentally. Even so, the loyal Parrikar praised Modi’s Rafale initiative as providing “minimum oxygen” for the IAF without letting on that it will maximally oxygenate French interests and industry!

While Modi talked of a low G2G price for the Rafale, he said nothing about its servicing bill. According to a former Vice Chief of the Air Staff, the total life-cycle costs (LCC) for a fleet of 126 Rafales calculated by Air Headquarters is over $40 billion. How will the LCC be downscaled if only 36 or 66 Rafales are eventually bought? If the real acquisition price of the ordnance-loaded Rafales is added to the LCC the total outgo will be upwards of $50billion-$55 billion, a figure this analyst had mentioned many moons ago.

Indeed, the odds actually are that India will end up buying the entire MMRCA requirement from France. Why? With 36 aircraft slotted in the direct sales category, it is already cost-prohibitive for any Indian private sector company to invest in a production line valued at $5billion-$6 billion to produce the remaining 60 or even 90 aircraft. In other words, by pledging to buy enhanced numbers of Rafales from Dassault the Narendra Modi government will be constrained by economic logic to buy the rest from this source as well, a denouement the IAF had always desired. Why else was the IAF Chief Arup Raha so desperate to get the PM to commit to buying significant numbers of this aircraft outright on the pretext of “critical” need when the Rafales will come in only by 2018 at the earliest but importing Su-30s from Russia would have beefed up the force by this year-end?

Previous prime ministers have been victimised by bad advice, and paid the political price, for instance, Rajiv Gandhi with regard to the Bofors gun. Modi will have to carry the can for this Rafale transaction—a boondoggle in the making. With the opposition parties and Dr Subramaniam Swamy waking up to its potential to politically hamstring the BJP government and mar Modi’s prospects, anything can happen.

[Published in the New Indian Express, April 17, 2015, at

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Rafale deal — live webchat hosted by Reuters news agency

Interesting stuff! The Trading India Forum live webchat with me on the Rafale deal was hosted by Reuters on April 13, 2015. It may be accessed at

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The Great Hanut, RIP

The death yesterday of the greatest armoured tactician and battlefield commander the country has ever produced, Lt Gen Hanut Singh, is a personal loss to those who served under him and the few civilians privileged to have known him. I was permitted to spend a few days with him in the last month or so of his last Command — the Armoured Warfare School and Centre, Ahmednagar in 1992 (if I remember right). Unwilling to meet civilians, he was persuaded to meet with me by his close cousin and fellow cavalry officer, Jaswant Singh (ex-Central India Horse) of the BJP and the then leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha.

Not sure what Jaswant told Hanut about me, but within minutes of reaching my room in the Officer’s Mess, I was summoned for a meeting by the Commandant.The very tall, very thin, almost gaunt looking General with bushy mustachios curling at the ends greeted me with the easy courtliness he was known for. Ere I had settled down in the chair, the General then on duty — it being a week day — and hence in full fig, shot me a question, which I immediately realized was a “trick question” in that my answer would decide the sort of relationship I’d have with him. “Who’s the best armoured tactical commander in history?” he asked, like a headmaster testing a student whose alleged promise was suspect. I took my time answering but when I said “Herman Balck”, suddenly the atmosphere lightened and a twinkle came to Hanut’s eyes and he responded “I think so too”. It was smooth sailing thereafter, with great deal of time spent discussing with him the future of mobile warfare with armoured forces, and the many practical problems in marshaling and overseeing actions of large armrd and mech formations on the battlefield.

Hanut had, perhaps, in mind his tenure as GOC, II Corps in the 1987 Operation Brasstacks that, as subsequently revealed, had a secret thrust (Op Trident) of transiting from a war exercise into a full-scale operation for ingress deep into Pakistan to catch the Pakistan Army by surprise, except Sundarji’s surprise also surprised Hanut. He reportedly protested not being told about this sub-surface plan and the difficulties in virtually turning his Strike Corps around and sustaining a hard push westwards. Hanut was careful to skirt around Brasstacks in our interactions. I remember, in this respect, talking when in Pakistan a decade back to Gen. Khalid Arif, the de facto Pak Army Chief in the late 1980s, who countered the Indian concentration, albeit for a war exercise, by amassing his forces as a precautionary measure — including Army Reserve South — in the chicken neck area north of Gurdaspur to cut Kashmir off from the rest of India if the massed Indian armour aggressed on the southern Rajasthan front. Arif was confident Sundarji and Rajiv Gandhi’s govt wouldn’t risk having J&K thus severed. The only slight doubts Arif hinted at by indirection was about the uncertainty attending on how Hanut would maneuver his forces once they broke through the Pak defensive line. In the larger picture, Arif calculated right; India did lose its nerve.

One can see why Hanut empathized with Balck, who like him, believed in leading from the front — Hanut’s Basantar river crossing and maneuvers in the Shakargarh salient in 1971 and Balck’s heading the lead unit of the 1st Panzer Div in Heinz Guderian’s XIX Panzer Corps across the Meuse River and the breakthrough to capture Sedan in 1942. Both Hanut and Balck ended their careers by being relegated to minor commands — to Ahmednagar and Panzer Group in Hungary respectively, their remarkable operational experience and competence under-valued by the armies they served.

I remember too the fierce loyalty he inspired among those who had fought under him, from the lowest to the highest. Such as the lead JCO instructor at Armrd School, who was instructed by Hanut to run me around on tanks so I could experience what it is like inside the closed, claustrophobia-inducing, mobile steel cans travelling at high spds over uneven ground — back-breaking and senses-numbing!, who recounted his hair-raising experience as Hanut’s tank driver in 17 (Poona) Horse’s lead tank as it led the armrd column across the minefield on the Basantar, and swore how every army unit would follow the “Colonel sahib” — as he called the General — anywhere w/o hesitation or doubt. Hanut’s chief of staff at the Centre, Brig Shergill, again a veteran of the Shakargarh op, recounted in greater detail Hanut’s on-battlefield tactics and instructions that awestruck juniors would w/o hesitation implement and his magical feel for the battlefield and, more notoriously, his differences with his armrd bgde comdr Arun Vaidya (later Army Chief) who advised caution, which Hanut expressly disregarded with a withering “Keep off my back!” warning to Vaidya issued over the bravo link. That Vaidya was awarded a Bar to his MVC for this action that he opposed, led to Hanut’s initially rejecting the award of MVC for himself. It was only after the Army brass all but got down on their knees and begged him to accept the gallantry award that he relented but, his fealty to the truth meant he never ever wore the MVC decoration! In fact, Hanut’s official portrait at the armrd school and Centre, if I recall, doesn’t have the MVC on his chest.

But great commanders are rarely appreciated by their peers. Hanut was scorned and reviled by lesser, even near incompetent, cohort of big-talking cavalry generals, as the “chaplain General” — because of the religious rituals he followed by going into his “meditation bunker” even during mil ops, venerating “Mataji”– an avatar he believed of the Goddess Durga. But these rituals never hampered his work or his duties, but nonetheless were something he was pilloried for. The General explained his devotion simply as seeking divine guidance.

It was a pity Rajiv’s defence minister K.C. Pant, whom I was close to,
didn’t have the gumption to over-rule the army brass arrayed against Hanut’s deserved elevation to army command and later, perhaps, even COAS, fearful that his cleaning of the Service’s Augean stables that would inevitably have followed, would have shown up the rot that had set in in the Indian Army, and would otherwise set a bad precedent!

The last time I met Hanut was in 1994 when, as adviser, defence expenditure, (10th) Finance Commission, India,chaired by Pant, I visited IAF’s South-Western Air Cmd HQrs then at Jodhpur, and took the time one evening to visit the General at his ashram he had built some ways outside the city. We talked about the state of the army and, even more animatedly, again about armrd warfare history. I recalled for him the haunting statement he had left me with from the Ahmednagar episode: “There’s no armrd commander in the army”, he had declared, “who can visualize a battlefield beyond the regimental level” [which statement I used in my 2002 (revised edition in 2005) tome — Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, to argue, among other things, that the impressive wherewithal notwithstanding, the three Indian Strike Corps and pivot corps couldn’t successfully prosecute Cold Start]. He gently guided me away from that topic but his assessment has left me wondering about what will happen in a straight-out armrd war on the western front.

The General attained samadhi in Haridwar, going the way he wanted to. His missed army command and perhaps subsequent COAS-ship, will however remain the great what ifs in the army’s and the Indian military’s history.

Great having known you, General Sahib, and a final, most respectful, salaam. RIP.

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Unexpected windfall for France with Rafale?

It was surprising news from Paris about the Indian govt finally settling on the purchase of some 60-odd aircraft as a via media between ditching the entire deal and continue struggling with Dassault for a compromise solution for the lot of 126 MMRCA. As of last night, HAL at least was sure that while their differences with Dassault had been sorted out, the glitch at the PNC (price negotiation committee) level was holding up the deal, and because the problem was with escalated cost of both the France-sourced and HAL license-manufactured aircraft, there was a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitable, meaning HAL wouldn’t get to produce any Rafales.

This new turn of events, it may be deduced, was apparently something derived by the PMO that Narendra Modi, perhaps, assented to in line with MEA’s view that Paris needed to be mollified with bulk purchase of the Rafale to maintain goodwill with the French govt. Besides, it is a add-on to the initially floated proposal for some 24 Rafales bought off the shelf to stop the squawking about fast-depleting fighter squadrons by the IAF brass.This deduction because Parrikar’s MOD could not have turned around a full 180 degrees after the minister had shown his partiality for the Su-30MKI option, with the HAL Nasik produced aircraft available at around $80-$100 million per fully loaded plane. Now compare that with the $4bn India will be dishing out for 60 Rafales, i.e., at almost $50 million unit cost. Except this figure is just for the platform with no bells and whistles and no onboard armaments, and certainly no AESA radar. Once you begin totting up the costs for each of these items, the final bill for each of these Rafales would be nearer $200mn. For Dassault and France this is surely an unexpected windfall, something they could’t have possibly even imagined coming to pass, because Dassault gets to produce all these aircraft and no nonsense about TOT, etc involved by bringing HAL into the picture. The French combat aircraft industry pivoting on the Rafale, which was down to producing just 11 of these planes annually, will now be able to ramp up production and keep itself in the clover for another 8-10 years thanks to the infernally stupid decision by the GOI.

This is ultimately a regression which pretty much torpedoes the “Make in India” thrust of the BJP govt, which by resuscitating the “meeting the immediate need”-principle for acquisitions takes the country back to ad hoc procurement policies that ended up making India the largest arms importer in the world. The IAF brass may be happy. But consider the deleterious effects of yet another type of weapons platform added to the fleet. At last count IAF had 27 different types of aircraft in its inventory. Now add another one, and compound the logistics problem of handling a completely new aircraft and maintenance setup, requiring the retraining a whole bunch of people (other than pilots) in France, and then total up the costs. For God’s sake, is there no one with any sense of the tens of billions of euros involved? And has the Modi regime given up on responsible expenditure and been herded into buying the IAF line that all will be lost without the Rafale? The truth is much will be lost with Rafale in the IAF because now we’ll have to contend with an upset Moscow, which has been liberal in onpassing its frontline armaments and technology that Western suppliers will not part with for love or money.The manner in which the seller France stuck to its guns in the price negotiation, compelling the buyer New Delhi to backpedal is evidence enough of that.

Let’s hope that this story is only a kite being flown in the media by interested parties. But should it prove to be true then, boy, are we flying blind into a squall!

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‘India Conference’ at Harvard University — Panel discussion on Sino-Indian relations

On the first day of the 2015 ‘India Conference’ at Harvard University, Boston, May 7, was scheduled the keynote panel discussion on Sino-Indian relations featuring the former NSA, Shivshankar Menon, and myself and moderated by Gary Samore, Executive Director, Belfer Center, Kennedy School and, until recently, President Obama’s White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction. It was a lively affair, a generally courteous slanging match between Shankar Menon and I. Listen to Menon’s defence of Indian foreign policy. It reveals just why India doesn’t get things right in the foreign-military policy field and especially vis a vis China! A video record of this event may be accessed on at

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Summiting with Purpose

After the fiasco of the “Savile Row” suit at his “chai pe charcha” with president Barack Obama, prime minister Narendra Modi learned, at some cost to his personal reputation, the need to dress austerely. As regards the more serious side of summiting, his attempt to explain frequent travels abroad as pro forma, necessitated by foreign policy imperatives, however, suggests that in accepting a “continuity” agenda set by the vested interests in government led by leading sections within the ministry of external affairs (MEA), he has yet to fully grasp the fact that the value of high-level meets lies in the substantive benefits extracted from host countries, not in lavish Indian giveaways to win short-term goodwill, which is the Dummy’s way to make a personal splash at the nation’s expense, and has been the norm since the turn of the century.

Too often in the last decade, nationalist-minded Indians have had their fingers crossed and hearts in their mouths every time Indian prime ministers sallied forth to foreign lands, or entertained their counterparts in Delhi, because the outcomes invariably involved the commitment of scarce national resources to securing wrong things, and/or the compromising of national interest by surrendering foreign, economic, and military policy options. Hopefully, Modi will not, in his upcoming trips starting April 9 to France, Germany, and Canada, deepen the mistakes already made.

A contract for the unaffordable French Rafale, entirely superfluous to the Indian Air Force’s requirements, for instance, will stifle the Indian Tejas and advanced combat aircraft projects, and an agreement for Areva nuclear reactors, facilitated by the 2008 nuclear deal with the US, as with other such purchases, by confirming the nuclear testing moratorium freeze Indian thermonuclear weapons at the failed-design stage, and create an energy dependency by denying funds for the Indian breeder and thorium reactor development promising energy self-sufficiency just so exorbitantly-priced imported reactors run on imported fuel, the supply of which can be terminated at any time, can be bought.

Modi had the opportunity to seriously rethink the issues involved and chart a new course. Instead, if the nuclear “breakthrough” with Obama is any guide, he chose to follow the MEA line hewing to the supplier country dictates. Thus relations with France, for instance, is thought of as depending on the Rafale contract being signed and on the approval of the sale of Areva reactors, which are plagued by problems of enormous cost and time over-runs wherever these are being erected (such as in Olkiluoto in Finland). Besides, astonishingly, inverting the traditional buyer-seller relationship where the buyer has the upper hand, it puts the onus of failure on India for not meeting relationship benchmarks set by Paris that is desperate to sell!

It makes one wonder how India got to this pass. Why it is that New Delhi seems determined to expend scarce monies on high-value foreign products of doubtful utility amounting to a criminal waste of national resources? And, more importantly, whether the Indian government even knows what’s good for the country?

If, as Modi has tweeted, this trip is centred on boosting the Indian economy and “creating jobs” for the youth, he cannot do better than ask especially the Angela Merkel dispensation in Germany, and secondarily France, to materially assist in establishing the “mittelstand” here. Mittelstand is the network of small and medium-sized, often family-owned, engineering enterprises and workshops that prosper by continually producing specialised, high-quality engineering goods, and are the bedrock of the high-technology sectors (aerospace, automobile, etc.) in these countries. New technologies thus produced are incorporated by big corporations into their designs for major hardware. Mittelstand also has been the engine of the German economy 1900 onwards, employing over 70 per cent of the workforce, responsible for over 82 per cent of the country’s vaunted apprenticeship programme for skill-building, and accounting for over 60 per cent of its economic output. It has proved so successful France copied it. If mittelstand is not on his list of “talking points” provided him by MEA, the prime minister should put it there.

He should explore in Berlin how the mittelstand concept can be replicated in this country and what programmes and projects Germany can get underway to achieve this aim. And, rather than sign fly-blown contracts for the Rafale aircraft of dubious merit and for the equally suspect nuclear reactors that will deprive the indigenous aerospace and nuclear programmes of much needed funding, Modi must ask Paris for pointers on how it converted the German mittelstand to fit French conditions, and what lessons India can draw from that experience. Modi ought to make support for rooting this economic-industrial set-up in India the metric for judging future relations with these two countries.

Indians, man for skilled man, are as inventive and productive as their US and European counterparts, as the record of Western companies in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, and elsewhere using Indian talent to produce exceptional technological innovations, patents, and profit for these companies, shows. The trouble is the traditionally statist-oriented Indian government has shied away from providing its own people and industry the enabling environment that puts a premium on growing technology. The same results can be obtained here by trusting in and incentivising Indian engineering and entrepreneurial talent. But first, it will require the BJP government to renounce the easy import option. As the Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’álon said in Delhi recently apropos of his country’s success in the military technology sphere, “Having no choice is the best incentive.”

Modi should focus on the ways and means by which small and medium enterprises can be technology germinators and innovators, and generate wealth and employment with or without direct German and French inputs. And, whilst in Canada, rather than get hung up on a “nuclear deal”, he should prod the Bombardier Company, say, into setting up production line and R&D unit here to produce technologically advanced rolling stock for export and to meet the elevated/underground metrorail needs of prodigiously growing Indian cities.

Modi can talk up India alright. Time is nigh he ensured his jaunts abroad helped root an Indian mittelstand as the cutting edge of an “innovation economy” at home.
Published in New Indian Express April 3, 2015 at

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Holdover Foreign Policy

Earlier in the year, the Pakistani columnist Ayaz Amir voiced the futility, apropos prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to get imaginative policies out of the advisers around him, of churning butter from water. A similar problem may be affecting prime minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy. Certainly, there is new direction to policy, such as in pacifying neighbours (Pakistan, Sri Lanka) and, importantly, in departing from the calcified thinking of the ministry of external affairs (MEA) that divorces diplomacy from military power. An example of the latter is the move to establish a forward Indian presence in the surrounding ocean, to begin with in the Agaléga Islands of Mauritius and in Seychelles, something long advocated by this analyst.

These innovations happened because Modi has relied mainly on his instincts. The PM’s setting himself up as the fount of all policy ideas explains the wariness of his cowed cabinet colleagues who refuse to take initiative for fear of falling afoul of his views. The PM thus saddled with too many policy areas to manage is unable to do justice to any of them, whence the many missteps by the BJP government.But such a system depends principally on the quality of the PM’s advisers and, even more, on the quality of advice rendered. So far there’s no evidence of any “brain trust” of realpolitik-minded outside specialists in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) ideologically in sync with the BJP. Indeed, there isn’t even a hint of existing structures being utilised in a meaningful way with many statutory bodies, such as the National Security Advisory Board manned by Manmohan Singh’s nominees, for instance, remaining un-reconstituted and high-flying economic advisers appointed with much fanfare feeling ignored.

The trouble is this is not a self-sustaining system of policymaking. The last time such a system prevailed was in Jawaharlal Nehru’s halcyon decade of the Fifties when the MEA acted on the premise, candidly recalled by former foreign secretary Jagat Mehta, that “Panditji knows best”. That episode ended in the Chinese Premier Zhouenlai politically eclipsing Nehru at the First Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung in 1955 and, seven years later, in China militarily humiliating India.

The era of one-man bands in the policy arena is long since gone. Except the prime ministers who succeeded Nehru went the other way, leaving any issue even remotely pertaining to foreign countries for the MEA to tackle immeasurably expanding its operational space. In the new millennium, the Westphalian order of sovereign states has grown more complex. Endemic intra-state turmoil and instability, permeable borders, technological advances, active social networks, and proliferation of non-state actors have upset the systemic certainties of the latter half of the 21st century. Specialist knowledge, technical acumen, and domain expertise are now the bread and butter of foreign policymaking. Absent such strengths in the MEA peopled by generalists and Modi’s unwillingness to trust in non-careerist policy counsellors, Indian foreign and military policies have tended naturally to stick to old policy lines justified in terms of continuity. Thus, the PM’s desire for close relations with the United States, for instance, was translated by MEA honchos into the nuclear “breakthrough” justified by tracing its origins to the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership obtained by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime.

The bureaucrats in the MEA, as in the rest of government, can at best implement policies. But they are happy to expropriate the policymaking role if allowed to do so. The result is a dearth of strategically agile national security policy options for the PM to ponder. While Modi from time to time calls in outside experts for consultation, these are episodic events, not everyday fare. It has left MEA officials free to insinuate themselves into the policymaking space the PM had carved out as his own by keeling over on the side it believes Modi is inclined.

This was evident in why no dialogue was initiated with Pakistan before Barack Obama advised this course of action, thereby according the US the go-between role it craves. It projected the impression of an India bending to Washington’s will, an image reinforced by the nuclear understanding, perhaps motivated by “professional” advice to Modi that a bad deal is better than no deal. It has confounded an already awful situation. It is doubtful whether Modi was advised about the negatives of this agreement, considering that the very persons and bureaucratic interests responsible for the 2008 nuclear deal, which achieved for the US its goal of “capping and freezing” India’s nuclear weapons capability—science and technology adviser to the PM, Dr R Chidambaram, the MEA, and Nuclear Power Corporation Ltd., also gunned for this nuclear compromise that violates Indian law—the Civilian Nuclear Damage Liability Act 2010. Assuming it withstands legal scrutiny, the disastrous consequences—the indigenous nuclear industry going into a tailspin, the burial of the 3-stage Bhabha Plan for energy independence based on Indian thorium reserves, and the commensurate revival and enrichment of the American, French and Russian nuclear industries—seem to be no one’s concerns, nor the fact that the promise of “63,000MW by 2032” is so much hot air.

But bending over backwards to accommodate the US makes little sense at a time when India’s leverage is waxing. Russia, post-Crimean annexation, has rediscovered its mojo, China has grown surer about realising its hegemonic plans, states on the Chinese periphery daily become more anxious, and the US is backsliding, desperately wanting regional heavyweights, like India, to join it in shoring up the status quo. These are circumstances tailor-made to enhance India’s strategic worth as balancer with respect to the US-China, China-littoral/offshore Asian states, and US-Russia tussles.

As a self-confessed Gujarati with an eye for opportunity and profit, it is surprising Modi did not capitalise on this situation to recover lost ground by rejecting the Establishment advice and sidelining the original nuclear deal, and extracting a high cost from Washington for an ambiguous promise of partnering it. So once again India is in the familiar position of supplicant. Modi surely did not want this but it is something he is unwittingly realising by relying primarily on serving and retired civil servants.

[Published in New Indian Express, March 20, 2015, at

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