When Attorney General KK Venugopal tells the Supreme Court that an inquiry into the Rafale deal would compromise national security, he would undoubtedly be conveying the views of the central government. His arguments were, however, more political than legal. The AG declared that the country was in dire need of Rafale fighter jets, that enemy countries have superior planes and that it would be catastrophic for the country to order an investigation into the deal. While the AG appeared to have assumed that the court’s intervention would lead to cancellation of the deal, no such prayer has been made by the petitioners.
An investigation has been sought into charges of bypassing established procedures, arbitrary decisions by the PMO, unilateral reduction of the indent, cronyism and corruption. Asked by Justice KM Joseph whether the government could hide behind national security when the charge is of corruption, the AG asked if the government would now have to seek the court’s permission before going to war. He went on to argue that demands for an inquiry were politically motivated and hence the court should have nothing to do with them.
Finally, he argued that the government’s view has consistently been that it would be detrimental to national security to disclose the pricing of Rafale but the ‘secret’ documents were stolen by newspapers and journalists and published, thereby putting the nation at risk. Even more remarkably, the AG suggested that the government was planning to file an FIR for the theft of documents and prosecute newspapers and the journalists under the Official Secrets Act.
The arguments unfortunately are poor, incoherent and hold little or no water. The central government has already made a laughing stock of itself by first disclosing different pricing of Rafale to Parliament on different occasions and then claiming that it could not do so in national interest. It has been exposed time and again trying to deceive the people and arrogantly refusing to answer questions over the deal. It also furnished misleading information to the Supreme Court. Last year it had falsely informed the court that it had shared pricing details with the CAG and that the CAG’s report had been placed in Parliament. When called out, it claimed that the judges had mixed up the present tense with past tense and sought the court’s order to be modified. What’s more, truth is a higher principle than confidentiality.
Across the world, the free Press have used documents made available by whistle blowers within the Government to expose deceptions, scandals and scams. The AG, by threatening the Press and invoking an obsolete colonial law, presented an ugly picture of India today and has unwittingly strengthened the case for an inquiry.