New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) On August 31 last year, Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted about “globalised corruption” in the Rafale deal. That was just a week after Mahmut Turker, a Turkish origin former German politician and now Airbus Industrie’s Sales Director-Combat Aircraft Campaigns, met him in Hamburg, Germany.
The corruption bit apart, India has emerged as a battleground for global players operating through a bunch of arms dealers who use every trick in the business to get contracts. In some of these, governments get involved. It is the defence establishment’s version of the Great Game being played out on Indian soil.
In 2016, raids were carried out at the Defence Colony home of controversial arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari and, allegedly, papers related to the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal were recovered from him. The Delhi Police filed a case against him under the Official Secrets Act. There was also an Interpol alert against him. The Union Home Ministry has a report on him for stealing documents related to the purchase of 126 Rafale jets during the UPA regime.
However, Bhandari is not exactly a persona non grata. Turker has had many meetings with Bhandari, who fled the country after the 2016 raids. They have privileged access to the anti-Narendra Modi coalition as they provide leads for the Congress in targeting the government on the purchase of the fully-loaded version of the French-made fighter jets. Bhandari is not the only controversial arms dealer with a finger in big defence deals in India.
Sudhir Choudhrie has got top billing as India’s biggest arms agent and lobbyist. He is under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and has, expectedly, fled the country. His name figures among the largest account holders in the grimy Panama Papers case. Both Bhandari and Choudhrie have been beneficiaries of the offset programme in defence that had been in introduced by the government.
Bhandari was awarded contracts worth $918 billion – for the record, Bhandari was a business associate of Priyanka Vadra’s husband, Robert Vadra. Alpha Design, a Bengaluru-based company with links to Choudhrie, was given offset contracts of Rs 1,000 crore during UPA rule. There are other deep political links associated with defence deals for the big money such deals involve.
Arms agent Vipin Khanna, whose father Arvind Khanna was a former Congress MLA from Punjab, was among those who received huge kickbacks in the offset contract for the purchase of three aircraft deals with Embraer during UPA rule. Arvind Khanna is now an arms agent himself. Here are more links.
Politician Santosh Bagrodia’s brother’s firm, Chandigarh-based software company IDS Infotech, received big kickbacks in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal in 2007. Santosh Bagrodia’s brother Satish’s firm received offset contracts of Rs 1,400 crore. In executing and being part of their Great Game, the defence agents and their handlers – the arms manufacturers and aerospace dealers worldwide – have carefully identified politicians who they think will be willing partners: what they offer will serve the interests of the politicians and what the politicians execute on the ground will serve their interests.
The privileged European Union intelligence briefing revealed that the US and China think that Rahul Gandhi, desperate for the Congress to show electoral gains under his leadership, is vital to their India plans — if only to jeopardize deals where they have been edged out.
Arun Shourie, who had harboured dreams of getting an important portfolio in the Modi government, is perhaps getting back at the government using, among other issues like demonetization and GDP figures, the reworked Rafale deal. But there could be a larger story. His brother-in-law — his wife’s brother – is a defence writer and has repeatedly argued against the purchase of 36 Rafale jets. His nephew works for the Tatas and since 2012 has headed Tata Defence. Ratan Tata is the Indian partner of Lockheed Martin. The Americans have said they will lift the CATSA embargo on India if it buys Lockheed Martin’s F-16 jets under the foreign military sales program of the US Pentagon.
There is also a backstory to why former Union Minister and BJP member Yashwant Sinha stands firmly in the anti-Modi coalition even though his son Jayant Sinha is a Union Minister. Like Shourie, he has been cast out in the cold, even as he believes that he has a role to play in national politics. If someone believes the battle will end, it is hope against hope. Because it is relentless.
Just take this instance of what could be described as an alliance of convenience: Lockheed Martin and Tata Defence joins up with Andrea DaSilva of Fifth Pillar, a pro-democracy non-profit organization to get the French NGO Sherpa to file a petition in France against Dassault’s Rafale. The aim: to help Lockheed Martin and Tata Defence to bag a new order for 110 fighter jets that could be worth Rs 240,000 crore.