After receiving unexpectedly harsh treatment from the voter, the Modi government would be more than entitled to welcome the apex court’s outright rejection of four petitions seeking its supervising a probe into the purchase of 36 Rafale jetfighters from France. Not that the political rumblings will wind down. The Opposition demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee could be stretched until verdict is pronounced by the “peoples’ court” next summer. In the interim, there will be sustained scrutiny by a range of experts on how clean a chit it was that their Lordships issued, whether or not all angles of the controversial defence deal were effectively projected by the petitioners ~ and indeed the larger issue on whether the judiciary is adequately posited to take decisions on professional defence-related matters. For the bench headed by the Chief Justice did admit to its own technical limitations. It might be in the best interests of the judicial machine for it to decline to get itself embroiled in such matters, for which no comprehensive judgment can be pronounced.
In some ways the exercise in court, the quizzing of top IAF officials etc, was a waste of energy. The “issue” was, and remains, essentially political. Their Lordships do not always have all the answers, it is the defence effort of that nation that takes a hit when the upgrade of the military machine gets dragged into the courts ~ as it has been over the purchase of Bofors howitzers, HDW submarines, Agusta Westland helicopters et al. In none of those cases has a juridical resolution proved possible.
There are unanswered questions on Rafale: will 36 jets ease the IAF’s apprehensions over a dwindling combat fleet, why is the report of the Comptroller & Auditor General (to which the Supreme Court referred) not been presented to Parliament etc? Will the stink over the Rafale off-sets prove a setback to “make in India” in the defence sector? The Congress of late has been singing the praises of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd: it will do Rahul Gandhi & Co no harm to peruse the most recent report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on defence (headed by Congressman Mallikarjun Kharge) that has flayed HAL for its failure to deliver the Tejas LCA. “Bashing” Anil Ambani is one thing ~ hindering private industry’s participation in defence production is something entirely different.
All parties swear by the defence forces, but politicking on security is par for their skewed course. It will require a truly national effort to formulate an acquisition policy and mechanism that keep reequipment and modernisation matters out of the political arena. It would also help if the huge public sector improves its functioning so that there is no need to always look abroad for equipment ~ and possible kickbacks. That would be more fitting tribute to the military than beating the dholak over “surgical strikes.”