Apart from reiterating that defence deals fall within the purview of judicial examination, little purpose will be served by the Supreme Court’s half-way order on petitions challenging the purchase of 36 Rafale jet fighters. It would appear that their Lordships have opted for a balancing act ~ keeping options open on the raging controversy but not really determining the merits of the issue.
Their Lordships CJI Ranjan Gogoi, and Justices KM Joseph and SK Kaul have held the petitions to be politically-oriented, but not really explained why they want to be satisfied that due process was followed. Perhaps after the next hearing the common man ~ the basis on which Public Interest Litigation is predicated ~ will find reason to conclude his money has not been squandered or siphoned off. By declining, rightly so as averred by the Attorney General, to go into pricing of the aircraft or its technical prowess (which has never really been questioned) the court has restricted its role to ascertaining if procedures were adhered to ~ a negative finding would impact only members of the ministerial council, and perhaps top officers of the IAF.
The “brass” willy-nilly always get the short end of the wedge ~ though the positions taken by some senior IAF officers on the Rafale purchase jeopardises the cherished ideal of an apolitical military. The government’s reluctance to share even contours of the deal ~ over-emphasis on “secrecy” ~ has actually fuelled public suspicion and apprehensions. More competent ministers in the South Block would have averted the flare-up, which has been exacerbated by the involvement of a much-favoured private company in the offsets arrangement ~ an explanation of what products/components will be made available is as yet not forthcoming. The BJP’s claim to PR-competence has been negated by allowing false prestige hinder transparency.
For all the heat it tries to generate, the Congress has thrown little light on the alleged dark deals ~ its criticism, like most of its president’s assertions, have lacked concentrated focus. Neither on pricing, the role of Anil Ambani’s generally unsuccessful venture, nor the key query of how a deal for 36 jets could serve as an alternative for 126 platforms with a “make in India” component. It is inevitable that in public perception Rahul Gandhi is desperate for Rafale to do what Bofors did to his father’s government.
The Army has yet to be equipped with a “matching” gun, the IAF’s depleting fleet of combat planes shows few signs of improvement, hopefully during her French trip the defence minister will pressure Dassault to step on the gas. Back to basics ~ will their Lordships’ satisfaction have any fallout on an organisation finding it hard to fulfil its national obligations? There must be a limit to reducing national security to a political football ~ even if some individuals dribble their way to postretirement goals.