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Between probity and effectiveness

Indian politics has been a witness so far to an interesting impasse as far as our incorruptible ministers and the risible wave of corruption are concerned. Despite the presence of our honourable ministers, with self-attested claims to having impeccable characters and spotless ‘personal reputations’, we are mired in a cesspool of scams and scandals, with corruption-watch (for those not directly playing the million-dollar games themselves) having become our national pastime. Our beatified ministers, who are at the helm of political and economic affairs, such as the likes of the honest and incorruptible St Manmohan and St Antony, however, look like lame ducks when confronted with the barrage of scandals, kickbacks, bribery, and other disgusting forms of ethical pollutants that have engulfed our abysmally managed systems. The latest deal gone bad, the Rs 3,658 crore AW101 helicopter trade with Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland, is one more reiteration of how clumsily we transact with our international community, and how we allow rotten eggs and apples to take over the basket, even in sectors as sensitive as the defence industry. What the defence minister had to say after the allegations against Indian middlemen, including the former air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi, came to the fore, was merely that ‘greedy people are working around the world’ and that ‘something happened somewhere’, as if, it is not the job of his ministry to ensure that the so-called greedy folks don’t make certain things happen in certain places when deals like the AgustaWestland agreement, are transacted and seen through.

While it’s absolutely crucial to get to the bottom of this nexus of pay-offs and kickbacks in the chopper scam, it is also important for the Defence Ministry to exercise India’s clout as the biggest arms importer and make an example of its professed integrity. It is not enough for Manmohan Singh to merely convey his ‘very serious concern’ over the chopper scandal to the visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron, who’s himself interested in pushing for the Typhoon fighter jet, a joint-production of the Eurofighter consortium comprising UK, Spain, Germany and Italy, even though India is finalising the Rafale deal with France. As the significance of rightful arms acquisition, which is an indispensable part of India’s attempt at fortifying its military prowess, simply to maintain its national security within and outside its territorial precincts, cannot be stressed more, transparency at all levels of such proceedings is a prerequisite, besides executing a drastic overhaul of our defence sector, including a thorough review of the already blacklisted companies. While scrapping the deal in a hurry, without digging up all the facts, might be a blunder, we must not let global middlemen hold our defence industry to ransom and let this corrosive culture percolate to the very core. Though the VVIP chopper deal falling through the cracks does not really destabilise our ‘defence preparedness’, as claimed by our External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, it’s the duty of all those involved to lead on to the path of self-correction and not let it become another Bofors.
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