New Delhi: Political miscalculation often consists in being off-center during power play. Congress leader and former party president Rahul Gandhi maladjustment between hub and wheel to make Rafale as BJP's Bofors scam in the run-up to 2019 election was primarily due to his consistent effort with inconsistent facts which instead of unraveling a scam created a further wall of thick smoke.
In the Supreme Court judgment dismissing the review petition in the Rafale case, BJP leaders see a victory against slanderous campaign and a closure for the fighter jet purchase but for the Congress the entire saga is pregnant with a message that grand old party needs to get out of 'as if' syndrome. Rahul believed Rafale was a scam and perhaps bigger than Bofors as he claimed in several public rallies in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
This "belief" landed the Congress in trouble which was quite evident in the election results — the Congress had made the Rafale deal and discrepancies in the case as one of its major poll issue. Just the way the Supreme Court, on the issue of Rafale pricing, held, "One cannot compare apples and oranges" — the lesson for Congress here is that reiterating allegations without proper facts to back them is merely a mechanical exercise and instead of awakening the masses against the government decision, it ended up being a droning lullaby.
The Comptroller General of India (CAG), in its February 2019 report, concluded that the Narendra Modi-led NDA government's deal not only ensured lower prices but also guranteed faster delivery of aircrafts in comparison to UPA regime's negotiations. The CAG report did not fully acquit the NDA government. The CAG report pointed out several issues with NDA's deal that could make the government sweat. The biggest among these was the lack of a sovereign guarantee or a bank guarantee in the deal brokered by the Modi government. Rahul had called the February CAG report a cover-up and added that the report ignored the suspicious cost of India specific enhancements.
After proper perusal of documents, the Supreme Court in its judgment said that the pricing of the basic aircraft had to be compared, which was competitively marginally lower, and as to what should be loaded on the aircraft or not and what further pricing should be added has to be left to the best judgment of the competent authorities. It also provides inclusive view of the entire Rafale controversy where Opposition leaders, including former finance Minister P Chidambaram citing certain documents, had claimed that that was contradictory to the opinion of officials in the Defence Ministry.
The Supreme Court bench agreed that several opinions were expressed in the course of the decision-making process, which could be different from the decision that was finally taken. But every decision-making process envisages debates and expert opinions and the final call is with the competent authority, which so exercised it. Congress and its leaders believed that they were being rational about Rafale deal. Considering that the topic got a wide international audience, as well, Congress might have thought it was a wise idea to stick to their guns. This was miscalculation.
There is no doubt that certain concerns like financial impact of the bank guarantees, absence of Sovereign Guarantee granted byFrance despite requirement of the Defence Procurement Procedure were flagged and alleged favour to Dassault aviation were raised by the CAG in its report, the absence of a middlemen like Ottavio Quattrocchi in Bofors, clearly made Congress's allegations irrational and irrelevant. The court clearly said that petitioner's endeavor is to construe themselves as an appellate authority to determine each aspect of the contract and call upon the court to do the same.
"We do not believe this to be the jurisdiction to be exercised. All aspects were considered by the competent authority and the different views expressed considered and dealt with," the Supreme Court said.
All illusions are bound to be broken but in politics carrying it for long could be tremendously risky. In the collapse of Rafale controversy, Congress has an opportunity to see the reality in true political tone and bridge the chasm between public and its leaders. Living in ivory towers with flowery anecdotes, like the one on Rafale deal, could best provide the Opposition leaders infinite dreams but will ultimately erode their political capital.
It is clear Rafale sloganeering did not work as lubricant for the Congress's slow moving cart. It, however, extends an important message that it should not fall in the same ditch again due to its fixation on one issue while sidestepping more vital matters troubling the common man of this country.
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Updated Date: Nov 15, 2019 18:36:28 IST