Question all arms deals, but for the right reasons

The Rafale controversy has ended up before the Supreme Court, and it is therefore moot to argue whether the country’s top-most court should be weighing in such matters. It has heard the matter, decided not to get into the pricing issue, and reserved its judgement. And there things stand.

There are two other dimensions to the problem, though, which are about, one, the very nature of such deals (and where there is a need for clarity and informed debate) and, two, the need for both the selection and the post-selection process being transparent and above board. This holds true for all arms purchases, not just the Rafale deal. India needs to get this right. As much as the country would like to (and should) manufacture most of the arms it needs, the fact is that it is currently an importer of arms – one of the biggest in the world – and will remain so for the foreseeable future. The need for transparency in the post-selection process is particularly important, especially in deals where corruption is being alleged. That’s because the arms business is an infamously competitive one, and it isn’t unknown for losing bidders for a deal to indulge in some good old-fashioned mud-slinging. Indeed, in the absence of either a money trail or a beneficiary, it should be ensured that the motivations behind the allegations are above board. All deals can and should be questioned in the interests of the country and fair-play, but they need to be questioned for the right reasons. Otherwise, the country’s already-lengthy process for inducting much needed equipment into the defence forces could be even more delayed. It makes little sense to politicise defence purchases, even less sense to allow commercial rivalry to vitiate such deals.

Arms deals are also notoriously complex, but, fortunately, well documented. Thus, the process followed in deals of various sizes and hues (and with countries and companies) is easily available. This is important because the lack of knowledge itself could result in misunderstandings about a deal. For instance, in the case of Rafale, much has been made of the lack of a sovereign guarantee from France for what is essentially a government to government deal, although several deals, including the recent G2G one between India and Russia for the S-400 missile system have been done without such guarantees. Here, it is the responsibility of all stakeholders to ensure that all pertinent information that can be placed in the public domain, is.

First Published: Nov 19, 2018 19:58 IST

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