The Supreme Court has asked Rahul Gandhi to give an explanation over his remarks on the Rafale case. Though not formal but a notice has been sent to the Congress president seeking his explanation on or before 22 April with the matter set for hearing a day after.
The apex court has been irked by the cavalier way in which Rahul seemingly distorted its views and sought to put a political spin to the court’s decision to admit three sets of fresh documents in the Rafale review petition. In as much as the top court’s ruling goes against the Narendra Modi government’s objections to the admissibility of those documents relied upon by the review petitioners, it is a setback to the Centre.
The government had objected to the citation of these documents by initially calling it "stolen", threatened to invoke Official Secrets Act against The Hindu (and other publication that had brought the contents into public domain) and subsequently, Attorney General KK Venugopal argued before the court that the papers were leaked, unauthorisedly photocopied, and that they “are sensitive to National Security which relates to war capacity of combat aircraft”.
By admitting these documents and rejecting the government’s objection, the Supreme Court gave fresh impetus to the Rafale case bang in the middle of the Lok Sabha election. However, the apex court’s decision was technical and by no means a judgment on the larger Rafale case.
Unfortunately, Rahul showed yet again his very limited gasp of politics. His enthusiasm to bring the development on to sharp focus during campaign season is understandable, but by seeking to make a political capital out of it, the Congress president has now invited court rebuke that will be used by the BJP to further raise questions against the credibility of the Rafale ‘scam’.
Rahul's interpretation of the Supreme Court's decision — that the apex court has validated his accusation against the prime minister having stolen money from the air force and given it to his ‘friend’ Anil Ambani — was slammed by the BJP. Union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had accused Rahul of "perpetrating lies", a complaint was lodged with the Election Commission and BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi took the Congress chief to court, filing a contempt petition and requesting the apex court to take criminal action against him.
Lekhi’s petition read “the words used and attributed by him (Gandhi) to the Supreme Court in the Rafale case has been made to appear something else. He is replacing his personal statement as Supreme Court’s order and trying to create prejudice”.
The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna orally observerd that the "remarks made by Rahul to media/public have been incorrectly attributed to this court..." and “...having clarified the matter we deem it proper to ask the respondent [Gandhi] for his explanation".
The bench, in its order said that the court "had no occasion to record any such views or make observations in as much as what was decided by this court was the legal admissibility of certain document to which objections were raised".
The order also said that "no views, observations or findings should be attributed to the Court in political address to the media and in public speeches, unless such views, observations or findings are recorded by the court".
The court observations may not mean much in terms of criminal proceedings against the Congress president, but it doesn’t need to. The damage to Rahul’s reputation has been done. The Congress president’s repeated flippant and cavalier behaviour calls into question his maturity as a politician at a time when Congress is projecting him as Modi’s only competitor.
In a presidential mode of election — in which mould the 2019 Lok Sabha polls have been cast into — the credibility of the candidates carries great significance. While Modi is consistently shown as a trusted figure among the electorate in various surveys, Rahul has failed to live up to his role as a challenger.
What the court rebuke does is further degrade that trust factor and makes it difficult for the electorate to take Rahul’s even legit charges seriously. The Congress president must ask himself whether he needs to take a pause and mull over the way he is conducting his politics.
Wins and losses are inevitable in elections, but the person who aspires for the top job must show himself to be responsible in his words and actions for it. This is not the first time Rahul has failed in that role. No high-octane PR campaign may undo the damage.
Updated Date: Apr 16, 2019 00:05:35 IST