Minister Parrikar, A Defence Chief is Not Spoken Of as "Chote Log" But Addressed by his Rank
NEW DELHI: Dear Mr Parrikar,
I listened to your entire speech in Lok Sabha on 4th May,2016 with regard to AgustaWestland acquisition fiasco. I was expecting that you will bring out/highlight some substantive issues. Ironically your statement lacked substance, commitment to bring to book and mention the names of the political and bureaucrat culprits (who were responsible for directing/ensuring/influencing that parameters such as maximum operational ceiling and cabin height were changed to suit only AgustaWestland knocking out S-92 out of contention), and most importantly make/submit explicit measures that you have instituted/propose to implement that will eliminate/minimize the scourge of kickbacks in defence deals.
Your political statements were in future tense viz “---- Hum kisi ko bhi nahi chorenge chahe who kitna bhi bara ho---( we will not spare anyone however powerful the person may be) or words to that effect. The entire nation knows that such utterances by a politician mean nothing.
However it is the latter part of your statement that forced me to write to you. You further added that “---- Gautam Khaitan aur Tyagi to chote log hain—etc etc). As an Indian citizen first and a proud member of Indian Military later, I am ashamed that our Defence Minister does not know how to address a Service Chief, retired or serving is immaterial.
I fully understand your total lack of experience and knowledge of defence related issues keeping in view your background but I fail to comprehend that even after having spent over a year as Defence Minister, you have almost deliberately failed to learn the basic etiquette so very essential while addressing a military officer, who has been granted permanent commission in Defence Forces of the nation by no less than the President of India.
It was morally incumbent on you to either mention/state all the names or take no names. You have mentioned Khaitan and Tyagi because they cannot retaliate politically, while the others can and would.
On the altar of political expediency you chose to bring into disrepute the name of a Service Chief. By the way was there no bureaucrat involved in the AgustaWestland negotiations? Were you trying to tell the nation a blatant lie, albeit in an indirect manner, that it is the Service Chiefs, who decide what equipment to buy, when to buy, from where to buy and most importantly at what cost. Your statement conveyed just that to a common man on the street. In doing so you have willfully sullied the image of Defence Forces.
Mr Minister, a military officer is always addressed by prefixing his/her rank whenever his/her mention is made in public domain/official communication. You have either failed to learn this fundamental mannerism or deliberately chose to address a former Service Chief in this wanton manner forgetting basic courtesy so very essential in public life.
Incidentally you were referring to a former Chief of Air Staff and not just another officer. Mr Minister a Service Chief is not an individual, he is an institution. Institutions cannot, should not and must not be denigrated in the manner you have done, almost willingly.
Mr Minister there are only three persons in the nation, the three serving chiefs, who would win or lose a war against an aggressor.
Defence Minister and his minions do not fight the war. Even today, 54 years after Chinese debacle, an ordinary citizen says that the Indian Military (not the then Defence Minister or Defence Secretary) lost the war. I guess you know it better. By the way have you had a look at Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report on the 1962 fiasco or have your minions kept it away from you as well?
Addressing a Service Chief in the manner you did in the Lok Sabha, you have willfully denigrated the institution of the Service Chief. You owe an apology to the nation.
Listening to the AgustaWestland debate for the past three weeks was like having one’s mind raped every hour day after day. Your speech was no better. You failed to bring out any new facts, which were not already in public domain. Indeed you succeeded in projecting your jaundiced vision, like many others have done in identifying the villain of the piece.
What was even more appalling was the fact that your speech failed to make any distinction between the men/women involved in the scam and the machine in question. That is where national security issues come in. It is the individuals, who are culpable of giving/taking the bribe. But the manner in which the issue is being dealt by all and sundry, including yourself, one tends to believe that it was the ‘helicopter’ which was involved/responsible for act of bribery.
I will elaborate. The Bofors Artillery Gun is an excellent piece of equipment but further acquisition of this gun (which was so very essential and remains even today) was not done because we put national security on the back burner and wasted time by enacting the drama of catching the Politico-Bureaucrat combination involved in the kickback. Equipment cannot be treated as a culpable partner of the crime. We are doing exactly the same in the AgustaWestland case.
Let me risk making a forecast. Mr Minister, you or your successor and the government of the day will deliberately fail to acquire clinching evidence that will bring any political figure to book and be jailed entirely due to political compulsions. The ‘caged pigeons/parrots’, the Enforcement Directorate and CBI will simply not ‘find’ and include the clinching evidence in their findings and final reports. Courts will have no option but to acquit the accused, if any barring the ‘Chote aadmi’ as have already been identified by you.
My response and rebuttal to your profligate behaviour on the floor of Lok Sabha is not (r) not to Defend Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi. It is against your wilful disrespect shown to a Service Chief. You have deliberately failed to inform the house and the nation about the process of acquisition of defence equipment and extremely limited role/authority of a Service Chief. Service Chiefs merely ‘ratify the proposal in as far as qualitative requirements are concerned. The ‘cash’ part is handled by bureaucrats and politicians.
You and your predecessor have failed to let the nation know as to why defence procurement process was followed for acquisition of helicopters, which were meant exclusively for civilian use, although operated by IAF personnel. After your reckless statement calling Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi ‘chota aadmi’ or words to that effect, quite a few media channels and self proclaimed experts on defence matters have addressed him in the same derogatory manner as yourself during the past week. That is why I decided to bring to your notice your appalling conduct in the floor of Lok Sabha.
Let me shift focus to more substantive issues. Entire process of Defence Equipment Acquisition is controlled and overseen by the Defence Secretary because it is he/she, who heads the Defence Procurement Board and not the Service Chiefs. The Defence Acquisition Council headed by Defence Minister is not the executive body. It is the DPB, the executive decision making body that is responsible and accountable for all decisions taken and is headed by the Defence Secretary.
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) merely stamps the decision taken by the Defence Secretary. Service Chiefs even as on this date cannot buy a ‘pin’ worth five rupees without the express approval of the MoD. It is the Defence Secretary, who must be held responsible/accountable for delays in acquisition (root cause of middlemen making merry) and possible financial impropriety in close connivance with the political bosses of the time in all defence deals.
Mr Minister why have you not considered it fit to call all the Defence Secretaries involved in the process of the AgustaWestland acquisition? Even the ‘caged pigeons/parrots’ have only called the the Deputy Chiefs of Air Staffs as informed by the media. Service Chiefs have little or no say during the Price Negotiation Process. Why have these simple and elementary facts not been stated even by so-called defence experts baffles me. A common man has been made to believe tha the service chiefs can buy whatever they want without any checks and balances due to prolonged lopsided debate in media, mentioning false and/or incomplete facts. The image of the Services has taken a beating.
You must educate yourself by reading Chanakya’s works on statecraft. One of the fundamentals of statecraft is the art of assigning authority, responsibility and accountability. Service Chiefs (not the defence secretary or defence minister) are accountable to the nation at large in ensuring territorial integrity of the nation but have little or no authority in decision making with regard to defence procurement. Inordinate delays in procurement not only results in national security being marginalized but also results in huge cost escalation. Acquisition of AJTs for IAF and Aircraft Carrier for the Navy are merely a few examples. The appalling state of Defence PSUs is yet another inheritance the nation has suffered and continues to suffer entirely due to myopic and jaundiced vision of your predecessors and yourself. National security imperatives be damned.
As a nation, the largest democracy in the world, we have achieved a unique status. We have become a nation of SCAMS, virtually in all areas, where public funds are involved. Chronology of scams since independence deserves to be printed as a set of volumes, because one book will be too voluminous to record all the scams. Perhaps most of the scams would be a wonderful study in acquainting the future generations on the total lack of governance or ill-governance.
While every scam hurts the national interests but scams involving procurement of defence equipment from foreign vendors effects the national security directly. The stark reality as on date is that in foreseeable future (till around 2050 A.D.), we are unlikely to produce ‘Big Ticket’ Mlitary hardware viz Aircraft Carrier, Submarines, Tanks, Heavy Artillery Guns, Aeroplanes, Drones, Electronic Warfare Systems/Suites, which will match the best in the world. Hence the military will remain dependent on acquisitions from foreign vendors. We must make clear distinction between indigenous hardware and licensed products. To emphasize the point, just one example would be adequate. We still have not been able to manufacture an aero-engine, which can equip our fighter, transport and/or helicopters that we might produce in next few decades. We have not been able to develop steel with required tensile strength, which can be used to manufacture turbine blades.
It is ironic that the Defence Ministers have excelled in finding a scapegoat extremely conveniently by dismissing/ forcing to resign the Service Chiefs leaving the bureaucrat, the real culprit, as happened in cases of few former Chiefs. Even the professional conduct of nearly all defence secretaries has been less pathetic. Strict adherence to flawed acquisition procedures took primacy over national security. To quote an outstanding example of total lack of understanding on part of Defence Secretary is the instance of rejection of Marcel-Dassault offer of Mirage-20009(DASH-5) and Rafale in the final months of previous NDA government in 2004. Chuck Eddleston the Marcel-Dassault official made this offer personally during his meeting with the then MoS Defence, Mr Rao Inderjit Singh.
The offer was rejected on a flawed and insane logic of the then Defence Secretary that we in India conclude the deals only after multi-vendor contract has been processed. Rest is history. For his act of ‘conspicuous stupidity’, the individual was rewarded with either the Governorship or an extended tenure in a plum post after his retirement.
Service HQs cannot be absolved of such terrible state of affairs. I would like to hear from past and present Service Chiefs as to why none of them have ever raised the issue with the government that Defence Procurement Board should be headed by them and not Defence Secretary. Indeed if they have and the government declined, they must tell the nation. Yet another aspect that Service HQs must address is the process of finalizing qualitative requirements prior to the acquisition process commences.
I have absolutely no hesitation in submitting that we ask for the moon, which simply is not the case. Then starts the process of dilution of QRs, which allows the tongues to wag as is already happening in the media by questioning the PILATUS deal. Can we be a little more realistic in our demands/expectations from the machines that we wish to acquire?
Mr Minister, the malaise of kickbacks in defence deals can be minimized, if not eliminated, if you decide to adopt the following simple measures.
Firstly, every defence deal from a foreign (or for that matter Indian) vendor must be concluded in less than three years. This, however, is not possible due to current organizational limitations. You need to introduce following simple reforms:-
· Abolish the post of Defence Secretary and Secretary (acquisition). Instead appoint a separate Secretary for each Service, who will report to Service Chief. It will enable each Service Secretary to devote more time to understand, examine and make sensible recommendations in shorter time frame.
· Service Chief must be appointed the head of Defence Procurement Board.
· Process of obtaining NOC from DRDO should be done away with.
· All trials must be done in India. Environmental conditions prevailing in India cannot be replicated in Europe or USA.
· Direct the Service HQs to FREEZE the QRs, which are realistic.
· In order to make tendering process absolutely transparent, the vendors( not the MoD) must be directed to place the details of the offer clearly and unambiguously stating the timeline during which the offer would be valid without any upward revision of the cost, in public domain well before price negotiations commence.
· Any upward revision in the vendor’s offer must be examined meticulously, possibly by a team from CAG’s office.
Secondly, every defence equipment procurement proposal must be placed in public domain as the process of acquisition commences with as much details as possible about the costs involved.
National Security can only be ensured by equipping the Armed Forces with the best affordable equipment. Witch hunting will get us nowhere, specially where Service Chiefs are involved/may be involved. Perhaps the Shloka from Yajur Veda says it all:-
“Satyam Bruyat Priyam Bruyat
Na Bruyat Satyam Apriyam”
Translated into English it means “ Speak the truth but do not speak unpalatable truth”. Chanakya has also elaborated on the same issue. Unpalatable truth causes more harm than good.
From what I hear about your tenure as Goa, Chief Minister, you are an able, honest and competent administrator. Perhaps the South Block ‘climate’ does not suit you. Next reshuffle after current elections just might be what you might be looking at. For your remaining time in the office as Defence Minister, concentrate on national security issues.
Best wishes and regards,
Group Captain TP Srivastava