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Interests and the ruling elite

The recent statement of Indian Prime Minister Nanendra Modi regarding the importance to have French-made Rafale fighter jets has fuelled speculations that in modern democracies executives merely serve as members of companies’ boards of directors. For them, the supreme interest is the interest of the corporate world. They seem to be in power due to the favour extended by transnational companies or large corporate houses.

Addressing a gathering this past Saturday, the right-wing Indian prime minister said, “Today there is talk that India is missing the Rafale jets. The entire nation is saying that if India had Rafale jets today, the outcome of the recent incidents would have been something different,” He said that he would like to make it very clear that in the past, the country “suffered” due to vested interest over the Rafale jets.

However, the Indian opposition is not ready to buy this rhetoric of the Hindu nationalist, and accuses Modi of favouring a certain company in India, which the government denies.

India with the largest undernourished population in the world (14.9 percent of its 1.3 billion populations) became the second largest defence importer in 2017. It signed a government-to-government deal with France in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale warplanes manufactured by Dassault Aviation. The deal had been announced by Modi during his visit to France in 2015. Delhi is hoping to modernise its Soviet-era air force fleet with the deal. The Rafale is a multi-role aircraft – capable of carrying out long-range missions, including highly-accurate sea and ground attacks. The first Rafales are expected to be delivered this 2019 and India is set to have all 36 jets within six years.

Last year, in September, former French president Francois Hollande sparked a political controversy in India by telling French news website Mediapart that Modi’s government had pressured Dassault to partner with India’s Reliance Defence to meet its “offset policy”. The ‘offset’ clause in Delhi’s defence procurement rules says that foreign firms need to invest at least 30 percent of a deal’s worth back in India. It was introduced in India’s Defence Procurement Procedure in 2008 to boost domestic manufacturing. As part of the 2016 Rafale deal, Dassault agreed to invest 50 percent of the estimated $8.7bn contract in India to manufacture some components of the jet with billionaire Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence.

It seems that the tension with Pakistan and the destruction of the Russian-made MIG 21 prompted Modi to highlight the importance of the Rafale. It might sound a silly question but one wonders why 400 deaths in road accidents in the largest democracy every day do not prompt the Indian prime minister to pump money into crucial road infrastructure that could save the lives of more than 100,000 people a year.

For an ordinary Indian, Rafale, MIG 21 and other lethal arms are not worth much. They might enrich a few Indian and Western companies but will not bring any respite for the more than 243 million Indians living below the line of poverty (unofficially, it is around 600 million). Such tools of killings do not impress the 195.9 million hapless souls of the largest democracy who go hungry daily. These modern means of barbarism do not bring any hope of a bright future for the 21 percent under-weight Indian children, 38.4 percent stunted little angels and one in four malnourished kids.

What Modi forgets to remember is the bitter fact related to the demise of the Soviet Union: the largest and most impressive military power on earth was equipped with more than 28000 nuclear arsenals. It competed with its rivals in every corner of the world. It went to the extent of chasing them in space, leaving all of its enemies behind in this dazzling technology. But no amount of arms could save it from disintegration. When hapless masses made long queues to find a few pieces of bread, intercontinental missiles, nuclear bombs and sputnik one or two did not provide them any respite. The largest power on earth crumbled without any attack, annihilated without any invasion and disappeared without any military mobilisation. The onslaught of miseries and impoverishment of the people gave uncontrollable blows to the mighty country which it could not sustain.

This is not the first time that an Indian politician has come forward to openly defend the interests of the corporate world nor is he the first leader of the globe to be doing so. In 2000, other Indian politicians, military men and business people were also accused of receiving kickbacks and carrying out malpractices. It is widely believed that arms companies and corporate entities grease the palms of ruling elites all over the world. Corrupt practices in arms and business deals were also carried out in countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and China.

Arms suppliers and manufacturers are notorious for offering hefty bribes to help secure a deal. Some experts on the arms trade claim that the biggest kickbacks are offered by these merchants of death. A top British arms company was accused of carrying out corrupt practices in the case of the Al-Yamamah deal. A transparent inquiry could have revealed facts but the British ruling elite is believed to have abandoned the inquiry, using ‘national security’ as an excuse.

The American ruling elite invaded Iraq to appease a few oil companies, decimating around 2.5 million people in the process and pushing one of the most advanced countries of the Arab world – with the second highest number of graduates in the Arab World after the Palestinians – into the Stone Age. The then US vice president Dick Cheney was quoted as saying that Iraq could not be ignored as it sat on ten percent of world’s oil reserves. The invasion was not meant to bring democracy to that state or protect human rights but to capture the oil wealth of the Arab state, destroy its infrastructure and then dole out contracts to leading American and other Western countries.

The much-vaunted visit of US President Trump to Saudi Arabia last year did not have any human rights or democracy on the priority list but the sale of arms and billion dollars-worth other business deals for American companies. Trump made similar deals in Japan and South Korea and recently served the interests of his country’s corporate entities in Vietnam. It has become a common practice in modern democracies that the corporate world funds various political parties that keep intact the interests of various companies while carrying out legislative work. Therefore, it has been difficult in countries like the US to rein in the arms, oil, banking, steel and other corporate entities.

It seems that, with the rise of democratic institutions in the last seven decades, the heads of states or governments have been protecting the interests of companies with full vigour. They can go to any extent to defend such interests. For instance, despite raising tall claims of democracy, the Western democratic government orchestrated coups to topple elected governments in Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Chile, Pakistan and a number of developing countries. One thing that infuriated the Western democratic world was the refusal of nationalist democratic leaderships in third world countries that defied the authority of transnational companies and in some cases kicked them out from their sovereign territories.

It is the interests of these companies to cause wars, conflicts and civil strife. So, Modi’s unflinching loyalty to the corporate world should not surprise those who have been keeping an eye on the world’s ruling elite and their corporate connections. The defence of these companies by the ruling elite of states should prompt the people to come up with their own agenda that seeks peace and democracy, while working to revolt against militarism and jingoistic mentality.

Abdul Sattar, "Interests and the ruling elite," The news. 2019-03-05.
Keywords: Political science , Developing countries , Elected government , Democratic institutions , Political controversy , Transnational countries , Political parties , Human rights , Ruling elite , National security , Democracy , China , Pakistan , Russia