There is clear conflict of interest in Rajeev Chandrasekhar being part of the parliamentary committee on defence and investing in private defence manufacturing.
The past few months have provided us with a rare public sighting of the process by which the state could be captured to serve private commercial interests. Rajeev Chandrasekhar is a central figure in these events. Chandrasekhar is a second-term Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka. He is independent but supports the NDA government and is the vice-chairman of the NDA in Kerala. Chandrasekhar is also a member of the parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence 2015-16. This position gives him access to privileged and sensitive information. It also gives him a significant voice on matters of India’s defence strategy and expenditure.
Chandrasekhar’s parliamentary interventions in recent times have included the introduction of a Bill calling for the declaration of Pakistan as a “state sponsor of terrorism”, and for the severe curtailment of economic, trade and cultural exchanges with Pakistan. Among the sanctions this Bill calls for is the prohibition of any Pakistani resident or organisation to travel in India, to trade with India and to remit money to or from India. The Bill even restricts a Pakistani from “overflight of the geographical boundaries of India”; presumably this means that a plane carrying a Pakistani individual may not cross into Indian airspace. Chandrasekhar justifies this by saying that the burden shouldered by the military in confronting Pakistan should be shared by other sections of society by confronting Pakistan in their own domains. In his worldview, the only possible posture with respect to Pakistan is conflict and so he is seeking to enlist diplomatic, economic and cultural spaces to participate in this conflict with Pakistan. Carl von Clauzewitz said that war is a continuation of politics by other means. Chandrasekhar seems to be turning this on its head by suggesting that conflict is the destiny of this relationship, with politics and human engagements just an extension of war. Irrespective of the foreign policy and strategic merits of this position, it is reasonable to conclude that by eliminating all forms of conversation and raising temperatures at the border, we actually increase the burden upon the armed forces and consequently expand our military expenditure.
Chandrasekhar is also the founder of Jupiter Capital, which according to its website is an investment firm managing a portfolio estimated at over $1 billion. Jupiter Capital is investing in a number of media enterprises, including, most recently, one to be headed by Arnab Goswami. The Indian Express while reporting this on January 13 notes that:
Amit Gupta, chief operating officer of Jupiter Capital, through which Chandrasekhar owns media investments, emailed editorial heads. He wrote that all editorial talent to be hired should be “right of center in his / her editorial tonality”, “Pro-India, Pro-Military”, “aligned to Chairman’s ideology” (chairman being Chandrasekhar) and “well familiarised” with the chairman’s thoughts on “nationalism and governance”. The email ended: “Offers being rolled out shall be summarised and shared with Chairman’s office as regards the credentials (only) and hiring managers have to ensure that the above has been ticked appropriately.” Gupta, however, requested the email be “ignored” the next day.
Chandrasekhar’s media investments are therefore seeking to shape the national narrative to align with his foreign policy positions.
Finally, Chandrasekhar has also invested in India’s defence equipment industry. Among Jupiter Capital’s investments is AxisCades, which among other things build solutions for the defence sector. To quote from the AxisCades website:
AXISCADES end-to-end solution in Mil-Aero electronics domain, Software and Simulation, Product Development, Test Solutions, Obsolescence management and Manufacturing uniquely position it as a core Defence and system integration partner. AXISCADES is an authorised India Offset Partner (IOP) for various global OEM’s and have successfully established strategic partnerships for executing the Offset obligations. We are certified for Defence manufacturing in India.
‘India Offset Requirement’ is the component of a defence equipment import that India insists should be manufactured locally within India. An ‘India Offset Partner’ is an Indian company which a foreign defence manufacturer engages to undertake the India-based production mandated by the offset requirements. AxisCades is presenting itself as a qualified suitor to act as an India Offset Partner for foreign firms who win Indian defence contracts. AxisCades is also independently competitive. On March 28, 2016, AxisCades reported that it won a contract from the Ministry of Defence.
Chandrasekhar therefore stands to profit from an expansion of Indian military spending.
He finds himself in a situation where the positions he advocates as a parliamentarian, the decisions he supports in the standing committee and the narrative crafted by his media investments could be used to further his commercial interests. Only Chandrasekhar could clarify if this intriguing situation is the result of uncanny business acumen or a series of unconnected and independent events. The NDA has given him a seat on the defence sub-committee. Only their leaders can answer how someone who stands to profit from war could be put in a place where he can influence how those wars are fought.
Irrespective of how he got where he is, Chandrasekhar has done us a service by demonstrating just how frail and vulnerable are the doors that guard the nation’s interest. The vulnerability is spread across multiple institutions. Political parties with centralised and opaque decision-making, the rising cost of funding an election, the diminishing of the media’s ability to bring power to truth are but some of the gaps through which those seeking to hijack national interest may steal into positions of power. Notwithstanding bombastic promises to kill corruption with one fell swoop, these vulnerabilities will diminish only with the strengthening of institutions capable of holding power to account. In the meanwhile, we cannot wish these vulnerabilities away. We need to think long and hard about the forces we unleash upon the corridors of power when we open the gates of the defence industry to private and even foreign capital. The wisdom of 100% FDI in the defence sector must certainly be questioned. The nation is in no position to guard its interests from being subverted by the profit motive of those who enter through these open gates.
Our soldiers deserve better than to fight and die in wars manufactured by capital.
Sachin Rao is with the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayati Raj Sangathan.