Rafale Hearing: The Saga Continues

As we inch towards the 2019 general elections, one of the major talking points is the much debated Rafale Deal. The tale took another dramatic twist during the hearing on Wednesday, March 6 as the Central Government told the Supreme Court that the files pertaining to the negotiations were “stolen from the Ministry of Defense”. This claim, along with other allegations surfacing during the hearing, has given us plenty to talk about, and possibly more to speculate.

The Hearing On March 6 – Key Highlights

·     Attorney General KK Venugopal firmly opposed the involvement of the Supreme Court in the Rafale Deal, as he stated that this was a ‘Matter of National Security’ and not subject to a judicial review. He went on to say that if a judicial review was conducted, it would hamper any potential future purchases. The unnecessary scrutiny and questioning by the courts and the media serve no purpose and only delay the procedure, putting off countries who may want to engage in such deals. In his view, this intrusion was nothing but an attempt by the opposition to destabilize the government.

·     KK Venugopal was aggrieved by the theft of the Rafale documents, which he claimed were leaked to the media, specifically The Hindu, for publishing. Justice KM Joseph, however, informed that even stolen evidence may be perused by the court as long as it pertained to the case and was deemed authentic. The Attorney General then became a bit more specific about his allegations, as he insisted the petition filed against the Central Government by contained excerpts from the stolen documents. His accusation was thinly veiled as he asked the petitioners where they had gained this information.

Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Prashant Bhushan
(left to right)

·     Bhushan deflected the direct question by citing the Right to Information Act, which was immediately crossed by his counterpart as he stated the RTI did not apply in matters involving defense documents. Bhushan then claimed that the allegations by the Attorney General were just to prevent the petitioners from being able to file their evidence, and in that case, the AG must be brought up on the charge of contempt of court.

The Bigger Picture

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, earlier this week, publicly claimed that the presence of Rafale jets could have been the difference maker in the airstrike. “Not one this side would have gone and no one on the other would have survived”, he quoted. This remark, and more specifically its timing, is intriguing, given recency of the Pulwama attack. The sentiments of the country have never been more on edge and it may be perceived as something the government is using to sway the public opinion.

Rahul Gandhi (left) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right)

Meanwhile, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has led the assault on Modi from the forefront. Citing blatant corruption and favoritism, the Rafale deal has been a focal point in the verbal attacks since the it was first negotiated. These allegations have been levied time and again, and over time they do seem to hurt the credibility of the ruling party. The question is, how much of this can they sustain?

What Happens Next?

The Supreme Court will resume the hearing on March 14, as both sides will continue to make their case regarding the stolen documents. With the General Elections on the horizon, it is not much of a stretch to assume that this will have a definitive impact on the political campaigns of both parties. Depending on which way the decision goes, it could either provide a huge boost or could potentially torpedo their aspirations.

This is a topic that has definitely split the public opinion and has gripped everyone’s attention. Whether you side with the Government’s version of events or agree with the petitioners claiming a conspiracy, the next session on March 14 should make things clearer. It could provide a conclusion to this drawn out battle or we could be in for more bombshells to be dropped.

So, the ‘Rafale Saga’- secrecy or slander? All we can do is wait to find out.

Sources: India-today, Business Standard

Image Credits: Scroll.in, India Today, NDTV

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