India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi bears comparison with Emperor Jones, the central character in the famous Eugene O’Neill play. Many things fit in – Jones’ past refusing to go away and his success in persuading the superstitious natives that he was a magician (and their fateful decision to crown him emperor); how he abused and exploited his subjects and boasted of his power, insisting only that a silver bullet could kill him (which turned out to be fanciful conjecture), and so on. India also bears a vague resemblance to Haiti. (O’Neill had based his play loosely on an event in Haitian history.)

Indeed there are bound to be differences, too. Jones constantly struggled with his internal demons and the images of his past victims assailed him – bizarre racial memories and ghostly tormentors. Whereas, Modi is not perturbed by the past. Nor is Modi a symbol of debased humanity, as O’Neill had conceived Jones. Modi only represents Indians, who only account for 17.5 percent of humanity.

Yet, the primeval jungle where Jones lived and ruled could in many respects stand for the modern civilization that is India today.

The point is, it’s simply appalling – the skillful efficiency and lightning speed with which Modi cast aside with impunity and disdain the restraining trammels of a truly finctioninf democracy based on the cabinet system of government and maneuvred his way through a multi-billion dollar arms deal with France’s Dassault, while touring Paris in the weekend. Even the Indian defence minister wasn’t privy to what Modi was up to when he took off for Paris with a band of close aides.

Originally, the deal negotiated by the Indian previous government was to purchase 126 aircraft in a deal worth about $20 billion, with the proviso that only eighteen of the aircraft would be supplied from France while the rest would be made in India.

Unsurprisingly, Dassault was reluctant to make the aircraft in India, as a product of such sophistication demanded skills and expertise and knowhow that India plainly lacks. Logically, therefore, the deal should have been annulled as it was awarded to the French through an open global tender (known pompously among the Delhi elites and defence analysts as the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft or MMRCA tender.)

But Modi has now apparently decided to take a de tour. India will only buy 36 Rafale aircraft. Period. No further details have been divulged.

Modi has a reputation for being a control freak and a secretive man. He has discontinued with the practice of Indian journalists accompanying the prime minister on foreign tours and handles the cub reporters (and editors alike) on a ‘need-to-know’ basis.

However, while a clutch of journalists continue to serve him loyally, the Indian media is not lacking in professionals with integrity who insist on being truth-diggers. Thus, India’s most prestigious economic daily Economic Times came out with a startling report today explaining how ‘Emperor’ Modi is reworking the Rafale deal.

Curiously, the report is based on briefing by senior Indian officials, which implies that an astonishing degree of dissent is prevalent within the top echelons of the government over Modi’s high-handed methods of ruling this vast country of great diversities.

Of course, given the fear Modi strikes into the heart of the Indian officials (and cabinet ministers), no one wanted to be quoted. But they told the ET that Modi has dumped the MMRCA deal’s proviso on indigenous production of Rafale, but will nonetheless retain Dassault as the vendor. Furthermore, Modi also proposes to dispense with open tenders for arms purchases and will henceforth strike deals with foreign vendors on the basis of direct negotiations.

For Dassault, this is manna from heaven. The company was facing the danger of a shutdown due to paucity of orders. Plainly put, Dassault will make the 36 aircraft in France (and dozens more in the womb of time ) but will route them through an Indian joint venture (where, indeed, they will have majority) in association with an influential Indian partner who would for all practical purposes act as a conduit to the Modi government.

Indeed, Delhi grapevine has been quick on the feet to identify lucky bloke who will partner Dassault via whom Modi government will generate lucrative business deals for Dassault.

Call it by name, but it is Crony Capitalism with capital ‘C”, something that Modi had passionately, incessantly, convincingly vowed to bury if given a chance to come to power as India’s prime minister.

Of course, the Russian, Israeli and American vendors must be feeling envious of Dassault’s good fortune. But they will also feel more secure, now that there is some degree of clarity about how to secure business in the Indian arms bazaar (worth an estimated $250 billion in the coming decades so long a Modi remains in power – namely, form a “joint venture” with a crony of the leadership. The Indians have a cute cliche to describe this business culture — “single-window clearance”.

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M.K. Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat who served for more than 29 years as an Indian Foreign Service officer with postings including India’s ambassador to Turkey and Uzbekistan.

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