Rafale deal: Opposition’s call for JPC and the politics surrounding it

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GR News Desk | New Delhi

“I don’t think a JPC or CAG inquiry is set up to satisfy the ego of an ill-informed leader who repeats lies with alarming regularity,” Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told media in New Delhi. The statement was with reference to a clamourous opposition challenging Prime Minister Narendra Modi led government for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe (JPC) into the controversial Rafale deal, now wrapped in the blanket of ‘secrecy’.

The Rafale deal is a move to fulfill the immediate requirement of the Indian Air Force which has been facing a crisis in its operational structure due to a shortage of squadrons. Nominally at 36 squadrons, the IAF plans to achieve a 42 squadron strength by 2027. The deal is the first cog in that wheel.

The plans to procure 126 Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) from Dassault Aviation was floated under UPA led by former PM Manmohan Singh, but could not be concluded. As the government switched hands, PM Modi during his trip to France in 2015 changed the “98% finalized” agreement between Dassault Aviation and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and instead settled for 36 Rafale aircraft in flyaway conditions. Reliance Defence, an 18-day old defense venture of Anil Ambani was chosen as an offset for the procurement, sidelining HAL which boasts over five decades of experience in domestic aircraft manufacturing. With no explanation from the government on selecting an inexperienced, debt-ridden Reliance for the job, the Opposition claims corruption in the deal.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi is leading the charge levelling corruption allegations against the PM. (File)

The opposition which had been gasping for breath in over four years of Modi rule has suddenly found new ammo. Led by Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, who calls the PM ‘corrupt’, the opposition demands a probe in the deal. Ergo the JPC.

But, will it serve the purpose?

A JPC is a parliament designated ad-hoc group set up for a specific object and duration of time, by a motion passed in one house of the Parliament and agreed upon by the other. The committee is set up to investigate issues which have agitated the public and involves corruption and fraud on a large scale. The body becomes functus officio (ceases official authority) after it tables the report in the Parliament.

A slow process of setup

The current dispensation has two parliamentary sessions in its kitty, the Winter Session in December followed by 2019 budget session. A result yielding JPC can be announced only in the former. Both the BJP and the Congress realise that. However, the motion has to be passed in one house of the Parliament, while BJP holds the Lok Sabha it lacks the support in the Rajya Sabha.

A major problem with the JPC is that being formed by the government, it mostly will have members from the ruling party which will give way for the opposition to boycott it, thus rendering its findings ‘unacceptable’, as in the past. The Bofors Scam JPC findings were rejected on similar grounds. The 2011 committee formed to investigate 2G scam, that later exonerated PM Manmohan Singh and then Finance minister P Chidambaram, had eight Congress members and four BJP members in a 20 member Lok Sabha team.  

poor success rate of JPC

In all, a total of six JPCs have been formed in India, however, most of them have faced the opposition’s ire, resulting in no productivity for the country. The last JPC formed was to look into the issues concerning Land Acquisition in 2015 by PM Modi. However, the committee chaired by SS Ahluwalia faces serious backlash from Congress which has been boycotting its meetings. The first such committee was formed in 1987 to investigate the Bofors scandal. When the report was tabled in the Parliament the following year it was rejected by the opposition. A similar fate was suffered by the JPC in Harshad Mehta Stock market scam whose recommendations were never accepted and implemented in its entirety.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with President of India during Dussehra celebrations in New Delhi. (Source: Twitter/@Narendra Modi)

bid to gain political mileage

As the Congress vies for a JPC probe, the committee is unlikely to further the cause of the country wanting to know the intricacies of the deal, instead, it will serve as a master political tool for the opposition. It might just be a coincidence, but every government, from Rajiv Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, which has formed a JPC has lost power in the successive election. With the 2019 general elections in sight, the Congress wants to transform the controversy into electoral gains. The JPC will give Congress a firm footing on its allegations of corruptions against PM Modi in the deal.

Understanding the stakes involved, BJP is trying to steer clear of the call, as consenting to a JPC will reflect as an admission of some wrongdoings in the deal and will put the government in a quagmire, months before the crucial parliamentary elections. The continuous denial from the top echelons of the government and the BJP shows that they understand the opposition’s mindset going forward.

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