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Analysis

Rafale, a political bomb for Modi

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Rafale deal scam

Within 48 hours after former French President Francois Hollande’s remarks re-ignited the allegations of crony capitalism over the Rafale deal, Modi government has remained on the back-foot, relying on weak denials and resorting to evasive narratives which places blame on the previous UPA government.

Over the past few days, there have been various statements from India’s defence ministry, the French government, from Dassault Aviation, a couple of political party press conferences and most recently a statement put out by the Finance minister Arun Jaitley.

At the end though, this is where these stakeholders stand:

1. Modi government claims it had no role in selecting an offset partner.

2. French government also claims that neither it had any role in selecting an offset partner.

3. Dassault Aviation says that the selection of Reliance was their choice.

4. Former French President Hollande, the one who negotiated deal said that Reliance was forced upon them by the Indian govt.

Now, if we look at the timeline and connect all the missing dots, we reach to the following conclusion. In March 2015, Anil Ambani’s Reliance acquires Pipavav Defence, an acquisition that it has used as a justification for being chosen as an offset partner in the Rafale deal, claiming to be a leader in different areas of defence manufacturing.

A month later, in April 2015, the Prime minister suddenly appears in Paris and announces a huge change in the earlier Rafale deal, that by all accounts, takes everybody by surprise. Anil Ambani, who attended Modi’s meeting with defence chief executives in Paris, reportedly held a long discussion with Dassault chief Eric Trappier.

While formal incorporation of Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd took place last year in February, the joint venture between Reliance and Dassault began functioning as early as May 2015, a few weeks after the announcement. All this lends credibility to Hollande’s full remarks to AFP, which state that Reliance’s name came in the context of a ‘new formula’ of negotiations in the Rafale deal, decided by the Modi government after it replaced UPA at the centre.

Hollande made this disclosure to refute the allegation that he may have favoured the Anil Ambani led Reliance group as a quid pro quo for a business deal struck by his partner, Julie Gayet. Last month, the leading Indian daily. The Indian Express reported that on January 24, 2016, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Entertainment entered into a deal with Julie Gayet’s firm Rouge International to jointly produce a French film and within next two days Hollande, who came as a chief guest for the Republic Day parade inked a memorandum of understanding with Narendra Modi for the purchase of 36 Rafale jets in New Delhi.

Subsequently, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence officially became part of the offset programme of Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal through the Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited — a company in which Ambani holds a 51% share and Dassault the remaining 49%. However, the ex President did not reveal the name of person who proposed Ambani’s firm but the way he asserted himself, points the finger of suspicion towards people in high places that had direct access to the Prime Minister.

In spite of government’s stonewalling the information on the Rafale deal, questions on the controversial contract have kept rising in recent months. Most of the opposition parties have accused the Prime minister of bypassing the well structured process to strike a deal with France which involved a three times higher price per aircraft than the price negotiated by the earlier UPA Govt. The no of aircraft also by magic dropped from 126 to just 36, HAL, the Public sector undertaking being replaced by Anil Ambani’s firm with zero experience in defence equipment manufacture.

The government could have easily avoided the controversy and stopped it from becoming a major scandal by taking opposition leaders into confidence about the details of the agreement or it may have appointed a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to go into the details of the deal. On contrary, it has used a combination of silence — a dogged refusal to reveal the price of the aircraft and blaming the earlier UPA govt for its failure to finalise the deal. It kept on harping that it got a more competitive price than agreed upon by the UPA Govt without even revealing the actual price.

This tactic of obfuscation has begun to unravel. On one hand, the ex-President of France has forcefully contradicted the government’s claim that it had nothing to do with the choice of Reliance as an offset partner, the ex-chairman of HAL has also refuted Defence Minister Sitharaman’s charge that it was poor health of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) which was partly responsible for the failure to clinch the Rafale deal during UPA’s regime.

The former HAL chief, T. Suvarna Raju, who retired on September 1, in an interview to Hindustan Times last week said, “If HAL can build a 25-tonne Sukhoi-30, a 4th generation fighter jet that forms the mainstay of the air force, from raw material stage, then what are we talking about? We could have definitely done it”. Raju further added that why only Sukhoi, HAL had maintained the Mirage 2000 aircraft, which was also manufactured by Dassault Aviation, for last 20 years and was involved in the Mirage upgradation programme as well.

The ex Chief while countering Sitharaman’s claim that HAL was dropped from the deal when the UPA was in power since it couldn’t agree on the terms of production with Dassault, said, “Dassault and HAL had signed the mutual work-share contract and given it to the government. Why don’t you ask the Govt of India to put the files out in public? The files will tell you everything.

Sitharaman gave another flimsy argument to justify Modi government’s decision to buy just 36 Rafale fighters in “flyaway” condition on grounds that the air force would not have the “paraphernalia” to induct more than two squadrons of 18 aircraft each at a time.

This argument falls flat in the face of the fact that four former IAF chiefs had asked for a minimum of 126 fighter planes, giving a valid reason that the air force is currently way too short of its authorized strength of 42 fighter squadrons and that it has ample experience of creating the infrastructure to accommodate the future induction.

You don’t have to be an expert to see through her claim that no due process was followed in securing the deal. The actual signing may have taken place in September 2016 after the cabinet committee on security formally approved it, but Narendra Modi jumped the gun in April 2015. On his first visit to France, Modi unilaterally announced that India would buy 36 Rafale fighters. Three months later, the earlier agreement with Dassault for 126 jets was cancelled, and HAL was cut out of the picture.

Back in April 2015, less than a year after his sweeping victory, Narendra Modi was on cloud nine who had the swagger of a conquering hero who could get away with anything — no questions asked. Now with the latest revelations tumbling out on Rafale every day, that promise of running a clean and transparent government is just evaporating in thin air.

Analysis

The US presidential elections and future of India-US relations

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Donald Trump Joe Biden

As the coronavirus pandemic dominates global news in the United States, progress toward the next presidential election scheduled to be held on November 3 moves slowly forward. President Donald Trump had no real opposition in the Republican party and is running for re-election. And it has now become apparent that former Vice President Joe Biden will be his opponent as the Democratic candidate for president.

What would a Trump victory bode for the future of US-India relations? What would a Biden victory bode? Let me answer each of those questions in turn.

Given the love fests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas, in which Trump participated in September of 2019, and Trump’s ‘Namaste Trump’ event hosted by Modi in India in February of this year, it might be assumed that the future for US-India relations is a splendid one. This would be an incorrect assumption.

Both of these events were more symbolic than substantive. Trump’s participation in them undoubtedly helped to persuade some — perhaps many — Indian American Modi supporters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to cast their ballots for Trump in 2020. Trump’s campaign team took steps to ensure this by holding an event at his Mar-a-Lago resort in which a group of prominent Indian Americans announced their plans to work for his re-election and to mobilize Indian Americans on his behalf.

To understand the future potential of India’s relations with the US. with Trump as president, however, it is necessary to look beyond these political moves and to examine the present state of those relations and Trump’s personal style.

In a word, the best way to characterize the current relations between the US and India is “functional”. The relationship was relatively good for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. In fact, near the end of 2018, Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, was quoted in the media s saying: “This has been a landmark year for US-India ties as we build out stronger relationships across the board.”

Then, in 2019, the relations went off the track in the first half of the year after the US and India got into a tit-for-tat tariff war after the US terminated India’s Generalized System of Preferences which allowed India to send certain goods to the US duty-free. There have been continuing efforts to structure a “modest” trade deal since then. It was thought there might be some type of deal done in September of 2019 while Modi was in the US by year’s end, and then during Trump’s India visit. But, as of today, there is still no deal.

This inability to get any meaningful trade agreement in place speaks volumes about India’s potential future relations with India with Trump as president. So, too does Trump’s style.

Trump’s campaign slogans this time around are “Keep America Great” and “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” Trump is not a policy wonk and most of his effort will go toward “America First”. This involves making the US more isolated by withdrawing from international agreements, restructuring trade agreements, emphasizing building walls to stop immigrants at the border, using tariffs to block trade with countries who are taking away American jobs, and confronting businesses who are allegedlly stealing American trade secrets.

This perspective suggests what India can expect for its relations with the US if it has to deal with Trump for a second term as president. The relations will stay functional at best. As I have said before, that’s because the words partnership, cooperation and collaboration are not in Trump’s vocabulary. Nationalism, isolationism and protectionism are.

Joe Biden stands in stark contrast to President Trump both professionally and personally. Biden is a strategic thinker and doer with a solid eight-year track record of leadership experience as Vice-President in forging alliances that have made a difference around the world and he has also been a long-standing friend of India.

He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading advocate for the Congressional passage of the Indo-US civic nuclear deal in 2005. At a dinner convened 10 years later in 2015 by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Vice President Biden discussed the tremendous joint progress that had been made by the two countries in the past and declared “We are on the cusp of a sea change decade.”

Early in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in July of 2019, in laying out his foreign policy vision, Biden stated that the US had to reach out to India and other Asian partners to strengthen ties with them. The items on Biden’s foreign policy agenda for strengthening which are of importance for India include climate change, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked side by side with President Barack Obama to do things that would contribute to achieving Obama’s vision stated in 2010 of India and America being “indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time.” In 2020, those challenges are even greater than they were a decade ago.

That is why it is so essential that India and the US develop a strategic relationship that enables them to become those indispensable partners. That can happen if Biden assumes the presidency on January 20, 2021. It cannot happen if Donald Trump remains as president for a second term.

The results of this upcoming election in the US matter greatly for the future of the United States. They matter greatly for the future of India-US relations as well. Time and the American electorate will tell what that future will be.

(Frank F. Islam is an entrepreneur, civic and thought leader based in Washington DC. The views expressed here are personal)

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Analysis

Covid-19 toll across world crosses 35,000

The COVID-19 is affecting 132 countries and territories around the world.

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Patients infected with the novel coronavirus

New Delhi, March 30 : The death toll around the world due to coronavirus crossed 35,000 on Monday evening, with Italy heading the list of 35,097 deaths with 10,779, while the number of cumulative cases rose to 737,929, with US leading with 143,055 of them, as per data from the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

Spain was second with 7,340 deaths, followed by China with 3,308 (3,186 of them in Hubei where the outbreak was first recorded), Iran with 2,757 deaths, France with 2,606 deaths, the US with 2,513 (776 of them in New York) and the UK with1,228 deaths.

In number of cases, Italy was second with 97,689, followed by Spain with 85,195, China with 82,198, Germany with 62,435, Iran with 41,495 and France with 40,747.

Meanwhile, 156,652 people around the world had recovered, with nearly half of them (75,923) in China, followed by 16,780 in Spain, 13,911 in Iran and 13,030 in Italy.

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Analysis

45% of Indians do not back up their data, files: Survey

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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Data Privacy

New Delhi, March 30 : Nearly half of Indians do not back up because they think their data or files are not important enough and most of those who back up their data, do it once a month, a survey said on Monday.

Other reasons cited by the respondents for not backing up their data included not knowing how to do it, not having time and forgetting about it, according to the survey by cybersecurity company Avast.

“It could be that many aren’t aware they are backing up, as it could be happening automatically, in the background, however, others really might not be backing up at all, thinking it is not worth it,” Luis Corrons, Security Evangelist at Avast, said in a statement.

“Losing personal documents, photos and videos can be a painful experience and it’s not until this happens that they realize how valuable it actually is,” Corrons added.

Of those who do back up their data, nearly 42 per cent Indians back up to a cloud storage, 36 42 per cent back up their data to an external hard drive, 23 42 per cent back up to a USB or flash disk, 18 42 per cent back up their phone to their PC, and 10 42 per cent back up to a network storage drive, the results showed.

Corrons recommended to back up data to two different locations, like the cloud, and a physical storage, like an external hard drive.

When it comes to iPhone and Android phone owners, the percentage that backs up is nearly the same, 69 per cent and 70 per cent respectively.

The percentage of smartphone owners that don’t know how to back up their data does not vary much between iPhone and Android owners, with 13 per cent and 17 per cent claiming not knowing how to, respectively, the study revealed.

Data loss can be caused by users accidentally deleting their data themselves, hardware damage and failure, as well as malware, causing valuable data such as photos, videos, documents, and messages to be lost forever.

Ransomware and other malware, such as wipers, can either encrypt or completely destroy files, and there is no guarantee that files can be decrypted if a ransom is paid.

The survey was conducted among 728 Avast and AVG users between February 20-March 25.

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