While Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Congress President Rahul Gandhi engage in a very public quarrel over the Rafale deal, the implications of such a verbal duel are far-reaching. The problem lies in Gandhi’s allegations – “Rafale robbery” – that accuse the government of commercial skulduggery whenever it takes a decision on defence. Gandhi and his party are strengthening a system of suspicion over defence deals. By casting aspersions on Rafale, Gandhi and his cohorts are undermining and compromising India’s defence and security architecture. It is this history of doubt that has plagued defence purchases and delayed decision-making ever since the Bofors scam came to light. The fear of being caught in a scam or unscrupulous defence deals had prevented successive defence ministers from taking any decision. The paralysis in defence has been long and painful for the forces.

When AK Antony served as the defence minister in UPA, his overcautious approach had compromised India’s defence and security preparedness. Antony was bent on maintaining a clean image and in pursuing this personal agenda, he allowed at least 10 major defence deals to slip and slide away. A defence kickback controversy over AgustaWestland chopper deals made Antony afflicted by decision paralysis. Consequently, the Indian Air Force suffered as it wanted to replace its Mi-8 VIP helicopters as they were completing their total technical life. It’s a double whammy for the defence sector. Though India’s budgetary allocation for the Armed Forces has increased to Rs 2,95,511.41 crore in 2018-19, only Rs 99,563.86 crore out of the total allocation has been set aside for modernisation of the forces and new defence purchases. Efforts at modernisation are being held hostage to caution as even the bureaucracy does not want to take a decision to propose a process that would culminate into a decision.

The bitter truth is: The Indian Army is in a sorry state” because it continues to use old armaments. It desperately needs modern guns and ammunition, combat vehicles and battle tanks. It has also been waiting for a future infantry combat vehicle for many years now. In July last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General declared, much to the fear of the nation, that as many as 61 types of ammunition — out of a total of 152 types of ammunition considered critical by the Indian Army to fight a war — is available for just 10 days only. Imagine the precariousness of the situation: For a short intense war, the Indian Army needs to have ammunition for 20 days. The CAG had also declared that lack of ammunition was also affecting the training of the Army.

The soldiers don’t even have proper shoes that will protect their feet at high altitudes. Coming back to the brouhaha over the Rafale deal, the IAF needs the French twin-engine multi-role fighter jet. According to Indian Air Force Chief Arup Raha, the jets will tremendously increase the force’s capability. The Opposition should refrain from playing politics with decisions related to defence unless and until it has clear proof and line of questioning. Gandhi may score some brownie points in the short term, but baseless allegations paralyse the forces in a way that can seriously affect the country’s preparedness.