Congress president Rahul Gandhi, as may be expected of the leader of the main Opposition party, has alleged high-order corruption.
The matter of the Rafale fighter aircraft purchase by the present government, after what seems to be a carefully camouflaged repudiation of an earlier agreement reached by the earlier Manmohan Singh government that smells suspicious, is before the Supreme Court, where it was heard in some detail on Wednesday. From the averments made so far, it is not clear what direction the hearings may take, but the importance of the issues at stake can hardly be overstated.
The political sensitivities at stake were adequately adumbrated by the bench, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, as also in the submissions of advocate-general K.K. Venugopal.
While addressing the substantive issues, it is necessary to bear in mind that ranged on the other side of the government are BJP stalwarts Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, both Cabinet ministers in the first BJP-led government of late PM Atal Behari Vajpayee. They have found an ally in eminent Supreme Court lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, who is arguing for the trio.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, as may be expected of the leader of the main Opposition party, has alleged high-order corruption. But this is not a subject between the Congress Party and the Modi government in which the Opposition party is acting out of pique, as has been sought to be painted in BJP circles.
The Supreme Court had asked the government to submit to it a record of the process involved in the scrapping of the earlier Rafale deal and the signing of the new one. When the court required the government to submit the price details, the government with reluctance agreed to do so in a sealed cover. This is naturally at the heart of the alleged coverup.
The Chief Justice has reserved his order on a Supreme Court-supervised probe in l’affaire Rafale, which is what the petitioners have asked for. The A-G, at Wednesday’s hearing, laboured the fact of the importance of keeping price details secret. The argument is that their revelation might lead the country’s enemies to figure out the India-specific technical configurations of the fighter jet.
The A-G seemed so frightened that he told the court that he himself had not looked at the pricing details, fearing that his office might be blamed in the event of a leak.
This speaks of an extraordinary level of anxiety in the government when the plain fact, as highlighted by Mr Bhushan and Mr Shourie in court, is that all the technical parameters are part of the request for proposal (RFP), prepared before international bids are invited.
The Chief Justice has said the court will consider the question of a probe when it decides on whether the price parameters can be made public. But given the importance and sensitivity of the case, a probe may be unavoidable.