The verdict of the Supreme Court dismissing all petitions seeking a detailed probe into the multi-billion dollar Rafale fighter jet deal and its complete endorsement of the decision-making process followed by the government is a major shot in the arm for the Narendra Modi government. The categorical manner with which the demand for a court-monitored probe has been turned down is doubtlessly a huge embarrassment for the Congress party in particular which had notched up impressive victories in the recent elections in three BJP-ruled states — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh — with Rafale as their main campaign plank. Considering that Congress president Rahul Gandhi, in particular, had repeatedly called the prime minister a ‘chor’ (thief) during the campaign, there is reason enough for the BJP to demand an apology from him personally and from the Congress as it has done. It goes without saying that Rahul’s grave charge against the country’s prime minister displayed how irresponsible and condemnable utterances had vitiated the atmosphere and lowered the level of discourse at the highest levels in the country.
There is such crass sycophancy and subservience in the grand old party that every act of indiscretion and regrettable behaviour is passed over and even applauded by partymen. Rahul is virtually unlettered in politics and such blatantly irresponsible talk would only get worse unless he is reined in, which in current conditions seems unthinkable. Parroting the leader’s line, Congressmen are already contending that the apex court judgement is no setback for Modi and the BJP. They will intensify their campaign for a joint parliamentary committee to be appointed to go into, among other things, the so-called corruption in the Rafale deal in support of which they have not been able to produce even a shred of evidence. For people who talk of Modi’s assault on institutions to cock a snook at the highest court in the country is the highest form of assault on an institution. Loose talk on the pretext of democracy cannot go to a point where the judiciary is mocked at and its sanctity trampled underfoot. That other Modi-baiters like West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee are joining the Congress chorus is doubly unfortunate.
The Supreme Court bench, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, said in the unanimous verdict in the context of Rafale that the need for acquiring aircraft and the quality of Rafale aircraft were indisputable. “We don’t find substantial matter to interfere with the issue of procurement, pricing and offset partner in the jet deal,” said the Supreme Court order. This is as clear an enunciation of and endorsement of the government’s dealings in the matter as can be. The petitions had alleged irregularities in the NDA government’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from French company Dassault Aviation which the court has clearly rejected. On the issue of offset partner, the bench, also comprising Justices S K Kaul and K M Joseph, said there was no substantial evidence of commercial favouritism to any private entity. That should put to rest speculation that there was favouritism shown to Anil Ambani by Modi. It is widely accepted that there was ‘policy paralysis’ during the erstwhile UPA regime and some vital defence deals were put on the back-burner by then defence minister A K Antony. Undeniably, the country’s defence preparedness suffered during that time. The apex court was evidently alluding to this when it said that the country could ill afford to be under-prepared. The reference was to the Indian Air Force being short on the number of aircraft it must have. Its assertion that perception of individuals cannot be the basis of a roving inquiry by the court was well-meaning and the apex court bench made it clear that it had “no objection to any part of the deal.”With the court having delivered a clear verdict absolving the Modi government of blame, the Opposition that swears by protecting vital institutions must gracefully accept the verdict and not go on the path of agitating for the appointment of a joint parliamentary committee to probe Rafale. The credibility of the Congress and other like-minded parties is at stake. They must wait for another issue to put the Modi government on the mat and move on.