Narendra Modi is making it a habit of trying futilely to buy respect, soft attitude, or consideration — it isn’t clear what, by approving multi-billion dollar military hardware acquisitions either just before or, springing surprises, during his trips abroad as happened with his announcement in Paris of the purchase of some 2 squadrons or 36 Rafales. These countries will glad-hand Modi, and just as gladly take India’s money. With the US visit looming, the finalization of the $3 billion deal for two types of helicopters — 22 of the Apache for ground attack and 15 Chinooks for heavy lift was on the cards. With cabinet decision it’s settled.
Note that despite all the talk of ‘Make in India’ and indigenization, that as regards these government-to-government (G2G) deals that Washington in particular favours, there’s absolutely no question of any technology transfer. These are off-the-shelf buys where India forks out the money and the supplier state/Company pockets it. It may cut out the middlemen-commission agents and minimize the attendant corruption, true. But there’s also no offsets, no tech, no long term benefits, no nothing. And because it zeroes out the possibility of in-country production, the country is even more at the mercy of the supplier state for spares and servicing support, with the ever-present danger of the entire fleet or formation with such armaments and weapons platforms being grounded if policy differences grow between Delhi and the supplier state for any reason at all, as is bound to happen. In other words, there’s no guarantee that operations of these aircraft — Apaches and Chinooks as much as the Rafales, can be sustained at intense rates in, say, a conflict against Pakistan, where the interest of the US, for instance, would be in limiting and constraining the military force India can bring to bear. Obviously none of these factors have been scrutinized, and if pondered, given their due weightage.
Now, other supplier states, such as Russia, will ask for similar mode because along with money they also acquire political-diplomatic leverage in a neat package! Is this not known to GOI? Or does the govt believe that Modi’s charm will over-ride these aspects? Or, perhaps, Modi is convinced that buying goodwill with high-value arms transactions is the way for India to make a mark, get traction in foreign capitals, and advance the national interest. As history, however, shows such tactics/moves only reflect policy bankruptcy.
Worse, such G2G deals firm up the transactional bent of bilateral relations which many even in this govt have decried, because it fetches the country few benefits other than having impressive-on-paper orders of battle. This is one way to pushback full-scale indigenization and arms independence, empty the treasury, and obtain a hollow military capability. There are always repercussions.
Unfortunately for Modi, the Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Washington around the same time and the contrast couldn’t be starker. The Obama Admin is preparing an agreement to lay down rules of cyber warfare that originally contained many do’s but mostly don’ts that Beijing peremptorily rejected, because China is unwilling to accept a skewed arrangement benefitting the US. So the agreement will protect most of China’s interests, including its latitude to attack US economic facilities, etc. Xi too is pleading for lines of economic cooperation to be kept open, except he is also holding out a threat. Modi, on the other hand, goes thither as a supplicant asking for investment, FDI, without however preparing the ground in the country to receive it with administrative, labour and tax reforms foreign investors want. So, again, we’ll have pledges of investment amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars that eventuate in only a trickle and then of investment funds whose managers are bold enough to accept at face value the Indian PM’s promises. And oh, yes,we’ll get a televised eyeful of occasions where large gatherings of flag-waving, Modi-hurrahing NRIs shouting themselves hoarse let off patriotic steam, safely offshore!
This is not what many of us who early plonked for Modi as a hard nationalist and fervently desired his electoral success, hoped and, even less, expected. May be, we misread the man, that he is in fact just another ‘namoona’ from the Indian political mainstream, another version of Manmohan Singh — with no strategic vision, will, or many good ideas and a willing captive of the bureaucracy and the permanent establishment. What a disappointment!!