THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 15 DECEMBER, 2018
Paragraph 25 in SC ruling creates furore
NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court ruling on the Rafale deal ignited a political fire with the battlelines drawn by the end of Friday between the Congress led Opposition and the BJP led government that will be reflected in fireworks in Parliament next week.
The Opposition is uniting to demand a Joint Parliamentary Probe into the deal even as the government has decided to dig in it heels to reject this regardless.
Far from being over the Rafale deal got new impetus through Paragraph 25 in the Supreme Court ruling that stated categorically that the “pricing details have been shared” with the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and the report of the CAG has been examined by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). And that “a redacted portion of the report was placed before the Parliament.”
The current chairperson of the PAC Mallikarjun Kharge stoutly denied this at a press conference, maintaining that no such report by the CAG had come to the PAC, and no such memo had been placed before Parliament. Shocked Opposition leaders joined Congress President Rahul Gandhi in expressing dismay over what most of them have described as “wrong information given by the government to the courts” with hectic consultations on for a joint strategy in Parliament that will make itself felt coming week.
The fiery press conference of party president Rahul Gandhi after the court verdict has set the tone of the expected confrontation. As Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha told The Citizen, “there was a JPC for Bofors where the Congress was under attack, how can there not be a JPC now?” The government will agree at best for a debate, sources said. This, the Opposition insisted, will not be sufficient with Jha pointing out “we can have a debate only if it ends with the resolve for a JPC probe into the Rafale deal.”
The Opposition has decided not to allow Parliament to function until this demand is met. In fact the court ruling has pushed the issue back into Parliament, with several MPs confiding that it was a “mistake” for the petitioners to approach the courts at all. The issue can be resolved only through a parliamentary probe that has the jurisdiction to ask questions, summon the right witnesses, and reach a conclusion to the satisfaction of all political parties.
Rahul Gandhi, speaking in Hindi for the benefit of the larger electorate, minced no words at his press conference. He raised the point of the CAG report made in the ruling, terming it the “foundation” of the Supreme Court judgement. He said that the PAC chairman was sitting beside him and had not seen any such report that the Supreme Court had. He said that the government has to show this to Parliament as no one is aware of this PAC. “Perhaps the Prime Minister’s PAC is running in the PMO, I do not know”, he quipped amidst some laughter. And then ended his short media interaction with the allegation that Rs 30,000 has been stolen from the people, reiterating his earlier slogan, chowkidar chor hai”. The Congress President asserted that when a parliamentary probe is held it will reveal only two names. “Narendra Modi and Anil Ambani, Anil Ambani and Narendra Modi,” the Congress president stated and left on this note.
Tall allegations that have basically set the tone of the campaign in Parliament and as Congress sources said outside. After the victory in the three states, that also Rahul Gandhi referred to in his speech looking directly into the cameras while talking of the “chori” and telling the farmers that their loans are going to be waived in these three states. The link between agrarian distress and the Rafale deal is thus going to be the way forward, with the Opposition fine tuning the argument now for Parliament.
Interestingly most of the regional parties looked at the Congress for the lead on the Rafale arms deal issue after the court ruling flashed across television screens. Rahul Gandhi’s press conference was preceded and followed by detailed statements from the party managers and spokespersons and an aggressive social media campaign that hinged around Paragraph 25 that has also become the “foundation” of the Opposition campaign on Rafale. Kharge was categorical that he has seen no such report, no such memo was made available to the PAC and he pointed out that according to procedure the CAG report has to go through the PAC before being submitted in Parliament.
Pargraph 25 in the Supreme Court ruling reads:
25. The material placed before us shows that the Government has not disclosed pricing details, other than the basic price of the aircraft, even to the Parliament, on the ground that sensitivity of pricing details could affect national security, apart from breaching the agreement between the two countries. The pricing details have, however, been shared with the Comptroller and Auditor General (hereinafter referred to as “CAG”), and the report of the CAG has been examined by the Public Accounts Committee (hereafter referred to as “PAC”). Only a redacted portion of the report was placed before the Parliament, and is in public domain. The Chief of the Air Staff is stated to have communicated his reservation regarding the disclosure of the pricing details, including regarding the weaponry which could adversely affect national security. The pricing details are stated to be covered by Article 10 of the IGA between the Government of India and the Government of France, on purchase of Rafale Aircrafts, which provides that protection of classified information and material exchanged under the IGA would be governed by the provisions of the Security Agreement signed between both the Governments on 25th January, 2008. Despite this reluctance, the material has still been placed before the Court to satisfy its conscience.