Friday, April 17, 2015

Modi’s ‘Yugantar’ moment

My article Modi’s ‘Yugantar’ moment appeared in The Asian Age and The Deccan Chronicle.

Here is the link...

It was perhaps the first time that a PM considered the defence procurement priority of the country over the babus’ and other considerations... and over his own pet project ‘Make in India’, which will now be delayed for years

It was perhaps the first time that a PM considered the defence procurement priority of the country over the babus’ and other considerations... and over his own pet project ‘Make in India’, which will now be delayed for years
Official visits by heads of state or government are like vital surgical operations — if you come out of the operation theatre alive and are back in your room, it is deemed a success. However, it is only with the passing months or years that the quantum of success can really be determined.
At the end of the second day of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France, the suave ministry of external affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, “…the visit was extremely successful. It met all the key goals that were targeted and we hope this will enhance our ties with France and take them to the next level.”
Mr Akbaruddin mentioned the nuclear front, “a wide variety of issues including defence”, the railways, the “Make in India” programme and visas “within 48 hours” for Indian tourists wanting to go to France. All this is good, but not special.
The spokesman also spoke of “smart cities”. It is true that in India, very few (apart from the Prime Minister) care about smart cities; we know too well that local politicians would first have to become “smart” themselves: a difficult proposition.
But what was “smart” was the unexpected Rafale deal.
It was perhaps the first time that a Prime Minister considered the defence procurement priority of the country over the babus’ and other considerations… and over his own pet project “Make in India”, which will now be delayed for years, at least as far as the technology transfer for the Rafale is concerned.
The move was particularly smart as it will cost India much less. To buy 36 “off-the-shelf” Rafales will come to some $4 billion, which means one-fourth or one-fifth the original plan to “Make in India” 108 planes with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), a government undertaking always prone to delays and over-costs.
Though there is nothing about the multi-role combat aircraft in the 20-point “list of agreements/initiatives/announcements” inked during Mr Modi’s visit in Paris, the French and Indian media were unanimous in saying that the main outcome of the Hollande-Modi encounter was the “purchase” of 36 Rafales for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Only the joint statement issued at the end of the meeting between the French President and Indian Prime Minister mentioned the Rafales. Point 14 says: “The Government of India conveyed to the Government of France that in view of the critical operational necessity for multi-role combat aircraft for Indian Air Force, Government of India would like to acquire (36) Rafale jets in fly-away condition as quickly as possible.”
The fact that (36) is in bracket shows that the agreement about the number was arrived at the very last minute.
The interesting point is that “the two leaders agreed to conclude an inter-governmental agreement for supply of the aircraft… the delivery would be in time-frame that would be compatible with the operational requirement of IAF,” and the plane will be in the same configuration “as had been tested and approved by Indian Air Force.”
In other words, a separate “inter-government” contract will be signed. So is the Rafale deal really done? Probably. In December 1981, the purchase of 150 Mirage 2000s was announced to counter the American F-16 ordered by Pakistan, but the final agreement was for 40 planes only, although a preferential credit rate of 9.25 per cent was then offered to India. At that time too, the IAF needed the fighter aircraft quickly. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar later clarified that India took the government to government (G2G) route because three years’ negotiations for the transfer of technology produced no results. His hope is that the Rafales would be inducted in the IAF in two years’ time.
The 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) scheme is clearly defunct. The tragedy is that India has lost years to reach the decision to buy “off-the-shelf”. The initial request for information had been issued in 2001, 14 years ago! It was only six years later that the request for proposal (RFP) was published, as the then defence minister, A.K. Antony, wanted to add new clauses, such as the total life-cycle costs, in the Indian defence procurement policy.
Five years later, in January 2012, Dassault Aviation was selected for supplying to the IAF after a long competitive process, which lasted five years with the American F/A-18 and F-16, Russian MiG-35, European Eurofighter and Swedish Saab Gripen in the race. Why so many years to come back to the starting blocks?
Because of the complicated and tortuous defence procurement policy drafted by the former “honest” defence minister. The inter-governmental agreement will put the last nail into the MMRCA deal. Considering that until the time the Indian delegation arrived on Thursday ahead of the Prime Minister, tough discussions were still on for the 126 planes (the bone of contention being the 108 to be manufactured in Bengaluru), it was a quick, pragmatic, “out of the box” and smart move to bring the “critical operational necessity” of the IAF on the negotiating table and dropping the MMRCA framework.
The modalities, number and delivery framework could not be completed in time to be included in the joint statement, but the French were relieved when the Indian Prime Minster confirmed the “deal” during his joint press conference with Mr Hollande. The IAF and the Indian finance minister, Arun Jaitley, must be relieved too.
A French defence blog wrote that till the time Mr Modi spoke, the French had been like Saint Thomas wanting to “see” before believing. The rest is history.
When Mr Modi visited the Airbus headquarters, he was told that the European company is ready to increase their sourcing from India by 500 per cent during the next five years (from $400 million today to $2 billion in 2020). It was a cherry on Mr Modi’s “Make in India” programme.
A touching moment was the visit to a World War I memorial in Neuve Chapelle, near Lille in northern France. Mr Modi spoke about the 10,000 Indians who lost their lives while fighting alongside France: “India is known as the land of sacrifice and devotion.” He reiterated that Indians never fought to expand their territorial boundaries, but for justice: “India is a nation that has always believed in world peace.”
The French persons of Indian origin, assembled in the Carrousel du Louvre, Paris, were delighted to hear the Prime Minister say: “From my experience I can say that India has no reason to remain poor.”
A special event was the visit to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation where Mr Modi spoke on Indian and universal values. Before reaching the main auditorium, he bowed in front of Sri Aurobindo’s statue installed outside the building.
An Indian agency said that he paid tribute to Rabindranath Tagore. Despite the lapsus, the great poet had an immense admiration for the rishi. After visiting Puducherry in 1928, Tagore wrote: “Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee! O friend, my country’s friend, O voice incarnate, free, of India’s soul.” The poet added, “You have the word and we are waiting to accept it from you. India will speak through your voice to the world. Hearken to me!”
The message of India not only as a great economic, but also civilisational nation is slowly percolating to foreign countries.
This also helped to make the visit a success.

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