March hint on jet deal – Signal of U.S. failure came when Boeing India head quit

Source: The Telegraph

By K. P. Nayar


Washington, April 29: The first signal that the Americans had lost their bid for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft for the Indian Air Force came in March when Vivek Lall, Boeing’s country head in India for Integrated Defence Systems, resigned from the company.

Lall, son of a former Indian diplomat, had been handpicked by Boeing in 2007 to lead its defence sales in India. Indeed, he had done as well as another Indian American who has focussed on the company’s commercial plane sales in the country, Dinesh Keskar, president of Boeing India.

Actually, Boeing has raked in billions of dollars in business from India and has nothing to complain. But greed has no limits in the free enterprise system and is not peculiar to Boeing. Capitalism has no fine feelings like gratitude and at the end of the day your last big deal is your only testimonial.

So, like U.S. ambassador Timothy Roemer, who cited family reasons yesterday for leaving New Delhi, it was said about Lall’s resignation that he was quitting to pursue “his own interests”.

In fact, Lall, a PhD in aerospace engineering, is wading into greener pastures. He has joined as CEO of a new venture by Mukesh Ambani, which represents a foray by India’s private sector into the homeland security and aerospace businesses.

Notwithstanding an odd gripe here and there, the decision of the ministry of defence to shortlist two European companies for the deal is not the end of the road for Indo-US relations.

The U.S. India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), for instance, said in a statement today that “by rejecting U.S. companies, India has lost an opportunity to avail (sic) of the best proven technology and lost an opportunity to reciprocate Washington’s gestures (sic) at a mutually beneficial relationship”.

It is organisations such as USINPAC which try to remain relevant by gratuitously injecting themselves into issues of Indo-US friendship which stand to lose as a result of the rejection of the bids by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The inept choice of retired Indian civil servants and self-promoting public figures by those here who wanted the MMRCA order to lobby on their behalf will also be a lesson. They should have known that defence minister A.K. Antony is not amenable to manipulation.

The statement by Roemer, on the other hand, is a pointer to the mature approach which the Obama administration will adopt towards future dealings with India, the current disappointment here notwithstanding.

Instead of complaining about the defence ministry’s decision, Roemer made a case for future sales.

“The sale of C130J aircraft and the pending sale of C-17s strengthen the strategic partnership between our two countries and demonstrates our enduring commitment to sharing the world’s best technology with India. Our defence partnership offers economic benefits for both India and the U.S. and significant job creation in both countries,” he said.

In 2005, when Air India awarded a bitterly contested order for Boeing aircraft, the then French ambassador in New Delhi, Dominique Girard, openly took issue with Delhi on behalf of Airbus and was rapped by the French foreign ministry.

Instead of a confrontational approach, President Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy steered the relationship with India in a direction where France’s Dassault Aviation is this week one of the two final bidders for the 126 fighter planes.

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