THE MOVING FINGER WRITES
By M.V. Kamath
The news of the selection of the French Rafale as the winner of Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) Competition has raised a lot of controversy and heart-burning, as was only to be expected. The Eurofighter Typhoon was poised evenly with the Rafale, but India finally rejected the British-involved consortium’s offer as it was priced higher. For all that, the selection of Rafale has not only raised the hassles in Washington and London, it has also become subject of questioning within Indian defence and scientific circles. Thus, in a much discussed article in the media, a former Chief of Air Staff, S Krishnaswamy has asked why India’s decision to manufacture an indigenously-designed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) never took off even after a few thousand crores of rupees were invested in it, way back in 1985.
A fully tested version of the LCA was then expected to be ready for production by 1994, but that never happened. According to Krishnaswamy, now the thousand crores will have to be accepted as Non-Performing Assets (NPA). Similarly, writes Krishnaswamy, another few thousand crores of rupees were invested by the Government of India to develop what was named as the Kaveri engine and now “the Indian scientific community has given up on it and has hired a European company to complete the development”. Krishnaswamy makes the charge that India’s “aerospace programme has been severely let down” – and that’s a serious charge. That calls for an explanation.
Meanwhile, India has come down for sharp criticism – bordering an insult – from the US and, more so, from Britain. It is as if, India, as a member of the Commonwealth, has no right to leave out the United Kingdom as a prospective supplier of any defence equipment, let alone fighter planes. The point is made that Britain has all along been giving India economic aid to the tune of $280 million a year and for India to give a $20 billion order to a French company for the purchase of fighter jets is not only showing ingratitude towards Britain but administering an ill-merited snub. Three points deserve to be made here: One, the selection process for an advanced jet fighter was entrusted to a group of professional and objective technologists who had to take into consideration factors such as production costs, overall fighter efficiency any fulfillment of the demands for national security. Two, Rafale must not only meet India’s concerns but India must have the right to share technology in its manufacture, which also has its clear advantages. Three, India has never in recent times sought economic ‘aid’ from Britain and the latter cannot in such circumstances make giving aid conditional on getting business orders. Only last year, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had told Parliament that India did not need ‘aid’, which, in any event, was “peanuts”.
In this context, perhaps it is necessary to let the British media and the government know that India is in no way indebted to Britain, but, on the other hand, has every right to marginalise it, giving the record of a common history. For over 150 years, Britain indulged in wholesale robbery of India, reducing, in the process India’s status around 1700 AD as the second largest economy to one of the lowest by the time India won independence. As the historian Rajat kanta Ray (1998) put it, what Britain did to India in the 18th century onward was “a form of plunder and a catastrophe” that in 1770 alone helped cause a terrible famine which killed a third of the people of Bengal. During the period 1780-1860 India changed from being an exporter of processed goods for which it received payment in bullion, to being an exporter of raw materials. Starting in the 1830s, British textiles started to inundate the Indian market with the value of textile imports rising from £5.2 million in 1850 to £18.4 million in 1896.
The Indian textile industry was throttled and industrial development was discouraged. Britain prospered at the cost of India. Every effort was made to despoil India’s cultural heritage. Indian soldiers were employed to conquer distant lands. Indian Armed Forces were used to fight Britain’s imperial wars. Thousands of Indian men got killed both in the First and Second World wars, so that Britain can survive. In India itself, violence was let loose against freedom fighters, with thousands killed and thousands more imprisoned. The killing of the innocents at Jallianwala Bagh was the ultimate in British barbarism. Insults were hurled at Indian leaders, such as Winston Spencer Churchill calling Gandhi a ‘naked fakir’. British rule deliberately sought to widen the divide between Hindus and Muslims that ended in Partition. And yet India never returned violence with violence. Right from the beginning Britain supported the Muslim League cause and Pakistan’s illegal claims to Jammu & Kashmir and a final effort to disposses India of the state was officially made following India’s suffocating defeat at the hands of China. India put up with it all with patience and dignity. It even decided to remain in the Commonwealth, forgetting all past beatings stoically. For all the possible benefits India has gained, it has always remained grateful.
India is a civilised country. For the British media now to turn hostile towards India shows the degradation of British culture – if such a thing exists. It also shows an ignorance of history indicating an arrogance so familiar to Indians. If it is a matter of gratitude, yes, the British have shown an utter lack of gratitude towards India. What the new generation of the British must know is that times have changed. India is marching ahead. And the western world has better realise it. Sure, there still is poverty in India but ask British historians what Britain was like in the 18th century. It is suggested that the British read Dickens and even Marx, to understand how things were in England in the distant past. India bears no hatred towards Britain; it is not in our culture. But a word of warning: do not alienate India. For all that it suffered at the hands of Britain, India remains grateful. To run India down in a sea of self-pity would be on the part of the British self-destructive. What the British need is education in history, not an order for Typhoons.