The Supreme Court has accepted the apology rendered by Rahul Gandhi for his “chowkidar chor hai” statement that he had attributed to the apex court with the implication that the court had accepted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rafale deal was not clean. Rahul Gandhi had apologised in the Supreme Court for his statement. The court has asked Rahul Gandhi to be more careful in future for his remarks in court.
The Supreme Court has rejected the ‘contempt of court’ petition filed by BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi in this regard. However, the BJP will hardly complain, given that they have Rahul Gandhi’s apology to wield to the people whenever he speaks on Rafale again. And this was not the only sore point for the opposition today.
The Supreme Court on Thursday also dismissed the reconsideration petitions filed in the Rafale case. The Bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice SK Kaul and Justice KM Joseph upheld the judgment pronounced on 14 December 2018. The apex court said that it did not feel the need to order an FIR or SIT inquiry into this matter.
In last year’s judgment, the apex court had declared Rafale deal as a contract of the government of India with that of France following a well-laid down procedure and given a clean chit to the Narendra Modi government.
The court had reserved the verdict on 10 May after agreeing to hear the review petition. The petition had been filed by Prashant Bhushan, former ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie, among others, seeking an inquiry into the Rafale deal.
On the matter of misrepresenting the Supreme Court statement on Rafale by Rahul Gandhi, the bench said that it accepted his apology. He needs to be more cautious, it held. The court had agreed to the re-hearing of the case considering the leaked but manipulated documents pertaining to the Rafale deal as evidence. To that, Rahul had said that even the court had accepted that “chowkidar chor hai“. “Chowkidar” happened to be a self-assigned epithet Prime Minister Modi had chosen to describe himself as the custodian of the wealth of India.
Due to the Supreme Court’s acceptance of Rahul Gandhi’s apology, his allegations about the Rafale deal in the future will lack credibility
The Centre opposed the idea of considering confidential documents as evidence, as its agreement with France risked being breached if everything about the deal had to be divulged in the court.
On 13 May, the central government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in connection with the leak of documents related to Rafale. The government argued that the documents on which the reconsideration petition had been filed were very sensitive to Indian security. The security of the country is in danger due to their going public, the attorney-general argued.
The Centre said petitioners Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, Prashant Bhushan were guilty of leaking sensitive information, to which the petitioners said the documents were already in the public domain in the form of media reports.
The Hindu had published a report by its former editor N Ram that showed a bureaucrat objecting to the fact that the PMO was interfering in the deal. The report had hidden the lowest portion of the same sheet of paper where then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had scribbled that the PMO’s intervention was alright, as the French president was equally monitoring the French end of the bargain.
Ram pleaded that he had not received the document with Parrikar’s note at the bottom. However, that could not have been possible as the date when he said he had got hold of the papers was a date following, and not preceding, Parrikar’s observation. It was on the basis of this dubious media report that Bhushan and Shourie asked for a review of the Supreme Court judgment on Rafale.
The government expressed the apprehension that the documents that the petitioners had attached to the petition had been circulated, which was now accessible for the enemies of the country as well.
The Rafale fighter jet deal was signed between the governments of India and France in September 2016 after the negotiations with the UPA government yielded no result even as the IAF was desperately looking to replenish its dwindling squadrons of fighter planes. Under the contract that is on, the IAF will get 36 state-of-the-art fighter aircraft. According to media reports, the deal is worth € 7.8 crore (about Rs 58,000 crore).
The Congress claims that the price of a Rafale fighter jet was fixed at Rs 600 crore during the UPA government. One Rafale would cost around Rs 1,600 crore as per the agreement the Modi government has signed with France.
However, the deal that the UPA was headed to had no provision for purchasing its spare parts, hangars, training simulators, missiles or weapons. The maintenance was not assured either. Most importantly, the version of Rafale that the UPA government was negotiating the price of was a base model without the additions the IAF had asked for.
All these aspects have been addressed in the deal that the Modi government signed with France. Potent missiles like Meteor and Scalp are fitted in the Indian Rafale. The Meteor can hit up to a range of 100 km while the Scalp can hit up to a 300-km range.
The Congress further said this deal benefited Anil Ambani’s company. However, the UPA government too had struck several deals with Reliance Defence. More importantly, the allegation was patently false. Ambani’s company is only making cones for Falcon and has nothing to do with Rafale.
Rahul Gandhi had also accused the Modi government of depriving HAL of the contract whereas the PSU head clarified that the unit has never accepted offsets.
Chairman and managing director of HAL R Madhavan said the PSU would get into the picture only if the technology were to be transferred to India and, under the licence of the original manufacturer, the entire plane (and not just parts thereof) were to be made in India, which is not the case with the 36 made-in-France Rafale planes the IAF is getting as of now.