The more one interacts, the more one knows, and the more familiar one gets with the rot of corruption, loot and pelf on an industrial scale entrenched in the Indian system of government at the central, state and local levels, which is eating away at the entrails of the military as well. That “make as much as you can, while you can”-mentality and attitude long ago established a foothold in the military, is common knowledge.
Whatever else the BJP governments under Narendra Modi since 2014 have not done, they have succeeded — to an extent — in curbing the kind of often brazen siphoning off of national financial resources at the senior bureaucratic and ministerial levels that was the norm in the previous decades. At the highest political level, it is now a couple of “crony capitalists” who are rumoured to be subsidising BJP’s successful election campaigns that does away with collecting small time funds for the party coffers.
The easiest way politicians, bureaucrats and militarymen discovered to rake in the moolah was through multi-billion dollar defence deals where the foreign vendors were only too keen to payoff in millions of dollars those in the procurement loop in return for multi-billion dollar contracts. The bigtime moneymaking began in the 1980s with the Rajiv Gandhi government, when “sophisticated” Italian methods and schemes for indirect payments were imported whole and subsequently localised. Especially useful were the turnkey projects — such as for the Snam Progetti fertiliser plants, managed by the infamous Italian middleman, Quatrocchi, with reach into the then PM’s home — recall all that? In the defence sphere, the deals for the German HDW 201 diesel submarine and, most memorably, the 155mm howitzer whose name — ‘Bofors’ entered the political lexicon, and spawned controversies. The AugustaWestland deal for helicopters and for the Pilatus turboprop trainer aircraft during the Manmohan Singh period, was at the tailend of that series of Rajiv Gandhi-era scams (after all Manmohan Singh, an unprepossessing sarkari economist, was hoisted into the prime minister’s seat by Sonia Gandhi, becoming by his own account an “accidental prime minister” and effectively a figurehead for a government run by remote control).
An attempt to bring those involved in the Augusta boondoggle to book is finally underway. The Central Bureau of Investigation has chargesheeted Shashi Kant Sharma, ex-IAS, former Comptroller and Accountant General of India and ex-Defence Secretary, who as Joint Secretary (Air) approved the deal for Augusta helicopters for VVIP use. But why it took the Modi regime nearly a year and a half to allow CBI to charge Sharma and his four IAF co-conspirators — retired Air Vice Marshal Jasbir Singh Panesar, Air Commodores SA Kunte and N. Santosh, and Wing Commander Thomas Mathew, is a murky mystery.
Sharma, amongst the smoothest operators, spent 10 long years in the MoD in various capacities to rise to the top. What he, a generalist babu, learned about military affairs during his time in the ministry is not known. But that he specialised in facilitating all manner of suspect, scammy defence deals, there’s no doubt. On May 6, 2016, in a post on “bureaucratic facilitators of corruption” I had written this: “The point to make is that bureaucrats, as handmaidens of corruption, invariably get away with the vilest wrongdoing, assisting their political masters to milk the system while keeping a lot or little for themselves as nest egg, even as everybody else gets hauled up. This has to end. Consider just how crucial the IAS babus are in the procurement game. The military service’s role is limited primarily to the drawing of SRs and then technically and professionally justifying the hardware pre-selected by the political leaders, the rest of the shortlisting process being so much eyewash — this has been the Congress Party’s record anyway. The DG Acquisitions, MOD, is actually central to approving hardware purchases. And Price Negotiation Committee (PNC) headed by Add Sec, MOD, Joint Sec (concerned service) and Defence Finance officers, with a one-star rank military officer asked to fill space at the negotiating table and not actually participate, firming up the contract. And because IAS babus in MOD are generalists — whose knowledge of military matters even after serving many years in the Ministry ranges between iffy and nonexistent, the contracts that accrue almost w/o exception favour the foreign vendor (whose negotiators are all specialists in legal nuances and technical minutiae in their fields and who run circles around the noncomprehending dolts on the Indian side).
“If the BJP govt is serious about accountability and bringing all the culprits in the Agusta, Pilatus, and potentially Rafale boondoggles to book, it better not overlook their main bureaucrat facilitator(s). Seek the counsel of the attorney general about whether a serving CAG can be prosecuted, at a minimum, for his apparent malfeasance and fiduciary irresponsiblity. If as CAG he cannot be touched by law, then it is incumbent on the govt to prepare an airtight legal case against him, and to prosecute him the day he demits office as CAG, which is only a year away. If the Gandhis and ACM Tyagi & “Fratelli Tyagi” and ACM Browne (now ambassador to Norway) [for the Pilatus contract] are to be made examples of, so should the IAS officers involved in these three deals.” [ https://bharatkarnad.com/2016/05/06/bureaucrat-facilitators-of-corruption/ ]
A follow-up Aug 19, 2016 post by me concluded thus: “As stated in earlier blogs, Shashikant Sharma on his retirement as CAG in 2017, needs to be investigated for his hand in the Augusta scam, but also for the C-17 fiasco. A start has been made by the CBI fingering HC Gupta (Retd, IAS) former Coal Secretary for the scam in that Ministry during the Manmohan years. There are more important, national security, reasons for investigating Shashikant Sharma and jailing him with a stiff sentence. It will have a huge effect on bureaucrats. Unless accountability becomes the norm, the present phenomenally lax system, ultimately of financial resources mismanagement, will persist, and India willfully reduced, by its minders, to a pauper.” [ https://bharatkarnad.com/2016/08/19/boeing-c-17s-shashikant-sharma-accountability/ ]
The latest developments far from being the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” as far as holding babus — the big time corruption enablers in government, accountable may actually point to why there’ll be no end to the ongoing gigantic level scamming, now manifested most conspicuously at the state and local levels. The scale of it may be guaged from the very visible fact of, say, the phantasmagoric 20,000 sq feet house of Jaipur pinkstone built for himself in a dry and barren sub-region of Maharashtra entirely free of any other signs of development, by a minor local government functionary — a mere zilla parishad chief in Beed, Marathawada, belonging to Sharad Pawar’s ruling Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra! (Hint to the Press — motor down to Beed over bad roads in Pawar’s bailiwick, to marvel at the palace this minor Kubla Khan has built in his Xanadu!!)
Such concerns arise because of the time it took the Modi government to permit the CBI to prosecute Messrs Shashi Kant Sharma & Co., and why to-date the retired Air Chief Marshal NK ‘Charlie’ Browne has been spared the “noose” for the Pilatus contract he pushed. Perhaps, people heading the present dispensation feared that should the BJP be voted out in 2024, they may face the same music on the Rafale fighter aircraft deal. Because, as a French press investigation has revealed, payments were made by Dassault Avions to Indians whether of the political class or those in the defence procurement decision chain is not clear, despite this being touted as a “commissions-free” government-to-government deal. The results of the recent elections in UP and elsewhere apparently put such fears to rest, emboldening the Modi government to finally act on the Sharma case.
But not going after Browne (for the Pilatus) and not making an example of him along with his predecessor, Air Chief Marshal Tyagi (for the Augusta helos), however, makes no sense unless it is that the government and CBI, startled by just how deep and widespread the tentacles of corruption have reached into the military, are being extra-cautious about hauling off scores of retired military brass to jail for other defence deals, lest this “demoralise” the armed services. This is to misread the sentiment among the rank and file of the military which’s clued in, with just about everbody in each service aware of the bad eggs in the officer corps; they would be happy and relieved to see the corrupt among them get, even if belatedly, their comeuppance.
However, the trend in babu circles in government in the last two decades is not to get caught with hands in the cookie jar. But, as I detailed in my 2015 book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, to ensure that prospective foreign arms/product vendors pay the fees and upkeep costs for their progeny in American/West European universities and/or guarantee them high-paying jobs after they graduate along with resident visas in the US, France, UK, Sweden, Italy, etc. It does away with signing potentially incriminating documents. And the placement of sons/daughters abroad is attributed by these babus naturally to their children being very bright! For companies that lose out on this or that deal, it is small price to pay for generating “institutional” goodwill this way. It is something they can cash in on in future Indian government deals and contracts, because babus down the line come to know of foreign companies (and their host countries) that happily pay in kind for services rendered.