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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2674

India's veteran socialist faces corruption charges in defence deals

By M Rama Rao - Reporting from New Delhi

New Delhi, 11 October ( Defences of erstwhile defence minister George Fernandes in the six-year old Barak missile are collapsing one after another to the dismay of the aging socialist even as his friends in the BJP are still hesitant to rally in his support. George Fernandes's main defence was that the then defence Advisor APJ Abdul Kalam had 'backed' the dealGeorge Fernandes's main defence was that the then defence Advisor APJ Abdul Kalam had 'backed' the deal

George Fernandes's main defence was that the then defence Advisor APJ Abdul Kalam had 'backed' the deal. And that the navy insisted that they needed the Israeli system.

It is now stated that APJ Abdul Kalam did not recommend Barak missiles since he felt that the imported weapons have a fifty percent failure rate in Indian conditions. Barak is a ship-borne, anti-missile-missile system. Indian agencies first tested it in 1995.

Madanjit Singh, who headed the Western Naval Command as a Vice Admiral at that tine, echoed the same views. 'My objections were looked upon as a dissent', he says.

Madanjit, who has since retired, contradicts the former defence minister further when he virtually echoed the Kalam view thus: "The missile is suited to the Israeli system not Indian system. Israeli ships don't stay out at sea for long periods of time whereas Indian Navy ships do."

Sources quoted by a private channel say that Kalam had conveyed his reservations to the then government as it was planning to go ahead with the purchase of seven Barak anti-missile defence systems and 200 missiles from Israel. This is the contention of the CBI though disputed by George Fernandes.

The deal was signed in October 2000. Months before the deal was inked, Kalam had put his objections in writing. In his communication, according to the Channel, he made three basic points – First Barak's performance was untested. Second Barak will take a long time to be imported. Third and more importantly, imported weapons have a fifty percent failure rate in Indian conditions.

Retired Vice Admiral Madanjit discloses, certainly to the discomfiture of the old socialist crusader, who is facing corruption charges in his twilight years, that during test firing of Barak missile, "there were some failures'. He registered his objections about the missile

Nonetheless, the former defence minister asserts that the criticism and the allegations were 'baseless'. He has not changed his line even a day after the CBI named him in the FIR on the missile deal alleging that he had taken kick backs.

Others named in the FIR are Jaya Jaitley, who was the Samata party chief at the time the deal was stuck with Israel and the then of naval chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar. Both have refuted the CBI charges. Admiral Kumar has in fact stuck to the line that the navy told the government that they needed the Barak system. "I still stick to my sand", he said.

Surprisingly, the top guns of BJP and the Janata Dal (United) have spoken a word in defence of George Fernandes. BJP at least fielded the spokesman Prakash Javadekar while the JD (U) preferred a low key reaction.

Among the Left parties, the CPI (M) fired a few salvos. The Party's politburo demanded that the case be pursued 'impartially', pointing out that the case has once again highlighted 'high-level corruption in defence deals'.

Prakash Javadekar slammed the ruling Congress for what he called misusing the CBI 'to settle political scores against the leaders with the guts to speak out against its wrongs and corrupt practices'. He said the CBI charge-sheet against George Fernandes is nothing but an 'act of political vendetta'.

CBI case against George

Based on country wide raids at 35 places against arms dealers, the CBI has built up the case against the former defence minister. The premier investigating agency has claimed that kickbacks amounting to Rs. 2 crore were paid in the Rs. 1, 5000 crore deal. The First Information Report (FIR) filed by CBI said the kickbacks were paid to Jaya Jaitley, who acted as an "agent" to clinch the deal. It alleged that the then naval chief 'colluded' with other accused and had put up a 'note' to the then Defence Minister George Fernandes to import the system "despite objections from the DRDRO, Defence Research and Development Organisation".

Kick backs in defence procurement during the BJP led NDA rule came up when an English weekly, Tehelka conducted a sting operation in 2001 and exposed alleged irregularities in several weapons deals, including the purchase the Barak systems.

-Asian Tribune-

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