Amidst the criticism over the handling of the coronavirus crisis, the Indian government has decided to go ahead with an arms deal with Israel worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
According to a statement released by the Indian government, Israel will supply the Indian military with 16,479 Negev light machine guns, despite growing concerns over the health emergency facing the country of 1.3 billion people.
The deal, worth $116m, came as doctors on the frontline in India continue to complain of a shortage of masks and protective equipment, highlighting concerns that India is ill-prepared to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.
The health care workers are in dire need of personal protective equipment (PPE) in India. The health ministry has not yet released the specifications needed for the PPE and there is a shortage of material for the PPE. India also has a weak public health system that may not be able to deal with the possible outbreak of the virus.
A solution to this would be to direct funding into the health care sector so that the sector can fulfill its needs. According to health care professionals, the country needs to put in every rupee it can to fight the virus.
India-Israel weapons deal
On March 19th, when there were 194 coronavirus cases in the country, the BJP government said that it signed an arms trade deal with Israel. An 880-crore deal was struck to procure 16,479 Negev light machine guns from Israel Weapons Industry.
These weapons are being procured under the Fast Track Procedure (FTP). The FTP is used to ensure that there is a quick procurement for ‘urgent operational requirements’ of the regular and special forces.
One might question, the logic of giving a go-ahead of an arms deal when its the health sector that demands more attention.
The special forces fighting a war right now is the health care system, not the armed forces. Either the government naively believes that Negev light machine guns from Israel will kill the COVID-19 or they prioritize machine guns over the lives of its citizens and health care workers. It seems, for now, that it is the second option.
According to estimates 300 to 500 million people are going to get coronavirus in India by July 2020. This scale of the spread of the virus will serve a huge blow to the already failing economy of the country. At such a time, the pushing of funds into military expenditure shows that government priority at this time is arming itself with weapons for defence while the population is losing in a war against the pandemic.
Under the Modi government, India has purchased 45% of total Israeli arms between 2015-2019. The Indian economy has taken the biggest hit also during the same time.
The increase in military spending, during a time when India is barely managing to keep up with testing and controlling the virus, has raised alarms.
Talking to Middle East Monitor, Achin Vanaik, “India needs every rupee to deal with the very real danger of the coronavirus pandemic spreading in a country of 1.3 billion people – living in densely populated cities and towns. As it is, compared to Europe, North America or even China and other countries in Asia, the medical system here is woefully under-equipped to deal with this emergency. This diversion of funds is deeply distressing,” Prof. Vanaik is a retired professor of International Relations and Global Politics at the University of Delhi
CPI( ML) leader Kavita Krishnan also expressed her concerns on this matter, saying- “Why is the government of India choosing to spend massive amounts on military purchases instead of prioritizing a corona relief package, medical infrastructure, free healthcare and testing for all?”