September 30, 2022

Chandigarh Gang and the Spy from Nagercoil

Pillai has earned fame as founder-CEO and Managing Director of the BrahMos Aerospace Limited. But he can do a yeoman service to the nation by revealing the names of the Chandigarh Gang. Alternatively being from Nagercoil, he could script a Bollywood movie titled ‘The Spy from Nagercoil’ giving  actual names of the Chandigarh Gang

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

This article is not about the new Bollywood movie Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui or Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s convoy being waylaid by protesters during his recent visit to Punjab forcing his pre-election rally to be cancelled. Instead, it is about a book that blames the Chandigarh Gang comprising senior military commanders who tried their level best to sabotage the Indo-Russian BrahMos deal and induction of the missile into the Armed Forces.

The book in question is ‘The Path Unexplored, Success Mantra of BrahMos’, authored by A Sivathanu Pillai, published by Pentagon Press, New Delhi in 2014. Pillai has served as the Chief Controller, Research and Development (1996-2014) at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and later as the founder-CEO and Managing Director of the BrahMos Aerospace Limited.

The interesting part is that write-ups and series of tweets about this book though published in 2014 are appearing now, which has an obvious relation to the upcoming elections – primarily to do down the Armed Forces and indicate that there was corruption in defence deals in those days (BrahMos days) and none thereafter (sic). According to them, Pillai alleges in his book:

  • Senior military commanders tried their level best to sabotage the BrahMos cruise missile. He doesn’t name them but it’s the Chandigarh Gang (Lobby). 
  • Pillai reveals that these senior military commanders wanted to scuttle the BrahMos project by declaring its performance unsatisfactory. Their plan was to continue India’s dependency on imports, which would result in more kickbacks for middlemen.

Among the various issues, the tweets further say:

  • The Chandigarh Gang is not exclusively based in Chandigarh, but is only centered there. Its elements exist in different parts of the country. Then Army Chief General VK Singh broke the back of the Chandigarh Gang, but it continues to survive.
  • Today, many sectors are now off limits to importers. The loss to the import lobby must be to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees.

The Chandigarh Gang is not exclusively based in Chandigarh, but is only centered there. Its elements exist in different parts of the country. Then Army Chief General VK Singh broke the back of the Chandigarh Gang, but it continues to survive

The above allegations have three shortcomings. First, the DRDO had already developed the Prithvi I missile (though the development was without knowledge of the military) but it was inducted into the Indian Army in 1994. Prithvi II was test-fired on January 27, 1996 (first missile under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) initiated by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam) and was inducted into the Strategic Forces Command in 2003. The full operational testing of Prithvi III was completed in 2004. Dhanush missile (variant of Prithvi III) was test-fired successfully on October 5, 2012. By August 2012, the SFC had successfully tested both the Agni I and Agni II also.

The BrahMos was developed as a joint venture between the DRDO and the Federal State Unitary Enterprise NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPOM) of Russia as BrahMos Aerospace Limited via an inter-government agreement. The company was established on February 12, 1998 with an authorised share capital of US$250 million. India holds 50.5 per cent share of the joint venture and its initial financial contribution was US$126.25 million, while Russia holds 49.5 per cent share with an initial contribution of US$123.75 million. Keltec (now known as BrahMos Aerospace Trivandrum Ltd or BATL), an Indian state-owned firm, was acquired by BrahMos Corporation in 2008. So which are the missiles that the Chandigarh Gang wanted India to continue importing? Has Pillai by design not mentioned specifics on behalf of the bureaucracy?

Second, Pillai has not named anyone of the so-called Chandigarh Gang – why? It is an established fact that defence firms have been employing veteran military officers as advisers and promoting defence sales but the DRDO also has been doing and continues to do so. Pillai could have easily named the Chandigarh Gang but refrained from doing so revealing the names would have led to inquiries that would implicate the bureaucrats of the MoD – to whom he owes allegiance having served under the MoD.  

Pillai could have easily named the Chandigarh Gang but refrained from doing so revealing the names would have led to inquiries that would implicate the bureaucrats of the MoD – to whom he owes allegiance having served under the MoD

Third, having served in DRDO under the MoD, Pillai is well aware it is the bureaucracy that rules the roost in decision making and defence procurements. No defence deal in India has been without kickbacks which are managed by the Defence Secretary and the bureaucrats of the Acquisition Wing of the MoD. They are the ones that ensure that the underhand money reaches the destination before the deal is inked. Even in the case of Empowered Committees going abroad for making defence procurements, the MoD official (s) stay in separate hotels where the deal is finalised.

In the AugustaWestland VVIP Helicopter Scam, it was the NSA who presided over the meeting to change the Qualitative Requirements (QR). The reason why the Army’s Technical Support Division (TSD) was shut down was given as ‘spying’ on politicians. But many would not know that the mobile interceptors that were deployed in Delhi were imported by the then Director General of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) with obvious concurrence of the Defence Minister to whom he directly reported. 

Yet the drama was enacted that someone had ‘bugged’ the office of the Defence Minister AK Anthony and using that excuse, the Army’s TSD was shut down. The media was not even aware that DIA is not under the Army HQ. Interestingly, the then DG DIA was being positioned as head of the NTRO on retirement but when the fact emerged in media that he had imported the mobile interceptors, his name was dropped. The TSD was obtaining excellent trans-border intelligence but the BJP government that replaced the Congress regime never revived it because skeletons of the politico-bureaucratic construct in all governments have common genes. 

In the Rafale fighter jet deal, the issue of offsets has still not been sorted out because the skullduggery of the bureaucrats for obvious reasons. Pillai is firing his gun at senior military commanders knowing full well that the decision has to be based on what the bureaucracy wants. The Chandigarh Gang or Timbuktu Gang is largely irrelevant or at best secondary unless supported by the politicians in power and the bureaucracy.

Pillai is firing his gun at senior military commanders knowing full well that the decision has to be based on what the bureaucracy wants. The Chandigarh Gang or Timbuktu Gang is largely irrelevant or at best secondary unless supported by the politicians in power and the bureaucracy

Pillai would also know that in the Indian set up, the politicians are dependent on advice of the bureaucrats who call the shots. The particular politician (s) may be clean (rare virtue) but are drawn in invariably for personal fiscal gains or for the political party they belong to. That is why the defence of India continues to be in the charge of the Defence Secretary, not the Defence Minister. That is why governments in India have traditionally used defence ministers to collect funds for their political party. That is why despite the installation of a CDS, capital acquisitions continue with the Defence Secretary because that is where maximum money can be culled.

The tweets, namely by RK Simha, says: “Army Chief General VK Singh broke the back of the Chandigarh Gang, but it continues to survive”. The fact that General VK Singh was offered a bribe of Rs. 14 crore in office and he in turn reported the same to the Defence Minister were out in the media. But the case related to the Tatra Trucks, for which neither the Congress nor the BJP was prepared to open an inquiry because the scam spans a number of years and would have exposed bureaucrats and politicians of more than one government. Little wonder why India is still ranked 86 out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index of 2020.  

Finally, Pillai has earned fame as founder-CEO and Managing Director of the BrahMos Aerospace Limited. But he can do a yeoman service to the nation by revealing the names of the Chandigarh Gang. Alternatively being from Nagercoil, he could script a Bollywood movie titled ‘The Spy from Nagercoil’ giving  actual names of the Chandigarh Gang – not like the movie ‘Aiyaari’ which only partly covered the closure of Army’s TSD but still left much to the imagination because most did not know the actual characters involved.    

The author is a veteran of Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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