Tyagi — literally translates as “someone who sacrifices”. Ironic, isn’t it, that an air force chief by this name (SP Tyagi), reeled in by the Central Bureau of Investigation for corruption and graft, has sacrificed his Service’s reputation on the altar of the “filthy lucre”? It is a precedent of sorts. Other Service chiefs in the past escaped similar fates, often by the proverbial whisker and, on more than one occasion, because the government and political leaders of the day were concerned about the negative impact on the Indian military, and its reputation, of marching off bribe/commission takers among senior beribboned, bemedalled, brass to jail. The tainted lot among the flag-rank officers in the three armed services are known to their comrades and colleagues, and many agencies of the government. Whether military officers should be held to a higher standard pf propriety than politicians, civil servants, judges and, if so why, are issues that have not been discussed publicly or debated widely. Do the armed forces personnel not reflect the flaws and foibles of the Indian people at-large? If the people tolerate corruption, are willy-nilly, parties to it, why should one expect military officers sprung from such a society to be any different?
The haw-hawing “Bundle” Tyagi is easy to pillory. But what about Service chiefs, and two and three star rank officers, who are less brazen, less conspicuous, fly under the radar and take care to spread the loot around to juniors in the loop by way of material goodies and career rewards (good postings, lining them up for promotions), thereby making these downstream beneficiaries at once complicit and less likely to rat on them should scams and questionable transactions during their stints ever get probed by civilian authority, and who have never been collared? And what about Service chiefs who engineer the promotions of junior officers just so a favourite or a close relative is eventually in the running for the top post (which will become evident soon in one of the services), and how the concerned service thus ends up losing some really stellar talent? Or, how about the top boss using his regimental affiliation to use jawans to man his spouse’s textile exports venture?
Worse, if one well regarded retired one-star officer is to be believed, corruption in the military is now so systematized, the higher up one progresses the fatter the monthly “envelope” apparently gets from contractors and sundry types doing business with the army and various commands, say. Is it any surprise that many toppers in the merit list at the IMA, Dehradun, for instance, prefer the Army Service Corps and Army Ordnance Corps as first choice (as civil service entrants do the revenue service, customs & excise, income tax)? The problem became serious enough for Army HQrs some decades back to decide that the Service and Ordnance Corps-wallahs would have to pull time in the front lines fighting insurgents in Kashmir and in the Northeast, rather than cultivating large nest eggs in the rear areas. On this issue, should ASC and Ordnance be at all offered as arms choices for officer-cadets at the stage of passing out?
Or consider that the fount of corruption in the Indian defence aerospace imports sphere — the London-based Choudhrie Family, owes its wrong kind of preeminence to a former chairman of HAL — BK Kapur who used the first of the large combat aircraft import-cum-licensed production deals involving the MiG-21 in the late-’60s to set his wife’s side of the family up — with Shudhir Choudhrie presently in the van, as arms middlemen with intimate connections into the ruling political families. Thus Shudhir’s niece is married to Kamal Nath’s son (see http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-shudhir-choudhrie-india-s-mover-and-shakers-in-defence-deals-1968457). In fact, it is the country’s complete dependence on imported armaments from aircraft to pistols that established a number of middleman “dynasties” in New Delhi, including the late ADM SM Nanda’s son former Lt Cmdr Suresh Nanda, Abhishek Verma progeny of a senior Congress party person, MS Sahni, the Suresh Kalmadi-linked S Mulchandani, SV Khemka, et al (http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/india/indian-arms-dealers-the-defence-dynasty).
It is this umbilical cord between defence-related imports and corruption which is at the heart of all the country’s national security troubles, which I have sought over the years to highlight. The Congress Party regime of Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh was lax in policing for the obvious reasons that many in the ruling dispensation benefited directly from the arms trade. The BJP government of Narendra Modi has no reason whatsoever not to slice off this connection by simply terminating the arms import channel and, as this analyst has been urging for over two decades now, integrating the pubic sector defence industrial infrastructure under Indian private sector leadership and tasking the resulting, preferably, two competing combines to make everything needed by the military and, in the meantime, wielding dexterous diplomacy to balance power in the extended region, Asia, and the world.
After all, with open arms import sluice gates in the last 30 years, India accomplished little by way of hard power nor gained any international standing, but enriched a tiny band of empowered Indians and kept the defence industries of various countries afloat. By taking, even if belatedly, to the path of arms self self reliance — designing, developing, and manufacturing armaments and defence systems of all kinds to meet the country’s military and security needs and for exports, India will gain the stature it deserves. Messrs Modi & Parrikar should not be swayed by the Cassandras in the military and outside, who have grown lazy or fat on the arms commerce who will seek to frighten them. The nuclear-armed A-5s and Arihant SSBNs afford India precisely the safety, security and most importantly, the time during which to speed the build-up of a comprehensively capable indigenous defence industry to design, develop and produce entirely Indian military products for India’s use — without the charade of ‘Make in India’ policy. But this requires the sort of grand strategic vision missing in government.
This solution first detailed by me in a 1999 paper as member of the ‘Technology’ group tasked with Strategic Review in the first NSAB, hasn’t been acted upon since then, and won’t be in the future, perhaps, because too many in the armed services, in the bureaucracy and, of course, in the political class are infected by ‘Tyagitis’ — a malady that’s dragging the country down into the pits and, more significantly, because PM Modi seems to be only ultimately a small risktaker and not one who, demonetization notwithstanding, is a high-value disruptor, when disruption is what’s called for and incidentally something he promised in his 2014 election campaign. Recall his slogan — “The government has no business to be in business”? Ending the import culture, ethos, and milieu generally, which is long entrenched in Lutyten’s Delhi, is necessary because it is at the root of India’s problems. To do this will be to signal a very big change, and that apparently is beyond Modi.