‘every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed’
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
India’s first five Rafale fighters touched down in Haryana’s Ambala on July 29,2020. They flew 7000 km from France, where they were manufactured. The nation went gung-ho, or was supposed to pretend to be doing so. Jingoism after all has evolved as the rule, rather than exception since the present ruling disposition assumed power at the centre. As the ‘game- changing’ fighters landed, the Defence minister was thankful to his boss for the new purchase. The macho in him had him look over the borders and flex elbows displaying his aging Biceps at India’s not-so-friendly neighbourhood. He must have forgotten in the excitement that historically arms-race has never staved off habitual territorial intruders-those with insatiable hunger for neighbouring territory. Arms-race has only heightened tensions, destabilised regions and upset power equations. It has only impoverished nations. Ask the Warsaw Pact nations once caught in the Cold War of yesteryears. Mis- adventurers hellbent on violating international borders haven’t been put off by military clout of their purported targets. Pathankot, Pulwama, 26/11,9/11 and global political assassinations bear testimony to this. It would also be foolhardy to imagine that five more birds across the border would have terror factories in Pakistan down shutters. Nations have had development stunted with money meant for nation-building that matter being siphoned away for purposes of clenching fists, baring six-pacs and broad hairy chests!
Indo-French deal which had these fighters land in India was mired in controversy, calling for Supreme Court’s involvement. Every arms deal has been fraught with sleaze, controversies and siphoning huge amounts of money usually through and by middlemen. Anil Ambani, the younger of Ambani brothers is suspected to be the middleman here. Curiously, Ambanis have had their fingers in every lucrative Indian pie. For some reason, door to the corridors of power always remain open to them. The Ambanis subsisting in penury surely needed some pocket money badly to survive in these times of a pandemic-induced economic ailment! Afterall, wasn’t a certain Ottavio Quattrocchi also given small change, supposedly by Rajiv Gandhi before India laid her hands on the Bofors gun?
Let bygones be bygones, as they always are destined to! The Rafale ‘deal’ was clinched when Prime minister Modi, during an official French visit in April 2015 announced that India would acquire 36 fully-built Rafales for 7.87 billion Euros (58,892 crore rupees) citing ‘operational necessity’. That has been the compelling excuse of every arms purchaser. Any arms purchaser would splurge when 15.5% of the Union Budget or 2.1% GDP have been set aside for defence spending as in current fiscal. And, why not? This amounts to a whopping 471,378 crore rupees. That kind of money allows any arms shopper to march into any ‘arms supermarket’ confidently. And walk out with an overfilled pushcart. But a conscientious shopper might be troubled if he knows the country spends only 1.28% GDP on health. The Prime Minister, the other day rightly claimed superlative performance by India on the COVID front, compared even to first-world nations. India has lost ‘only’ 34,968, compared to 153,000 Americans.Yet,34,968 is 34,968. Many could have been saved if Indian hospitals hadn’t collapsed under the ‘COVIDIAN’ weight. If they hadn’t shut doors on numerous sick who approached them. The only Indian state that seem to be standing up to SARS-CoV-2 is Kerala. This is due to Kerala’s robust public healthcare sector, which no other state can boast of. If India is serious about alleviating extreme poverty and rural distress, she needs to shell out 3.77% of her GDP. But then, who cares about homeless millions, the hungry, naked and malnourished? In today’s India, which ranks 49th in poverty index, and 83/113 in Global Hunger Index, and 154/195 in Healthcare Index behind Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, the imagery of Rafales’ ‘spectacular’ landing in Ambala is much sought-after, admired and applauded than that of well-clothed, well-nourished, and adequately educated, healthy smart Indians going about their daily lives. On the contrary, the din of the five Rafales taxiing to their new hangars in Ambala drowned the hunger cries of thousands of Indians uninterested in the excitement and the din. For them, life is all about hunger pangs, communicable diseases, child labour, sexual exploitation of women and the girl child, open defecation and indeed about squalor too!