The problem with every party in governance is that it forgets its days in the Opposition and grand commitment to past causes. But when the tables turn and the causes remain the same, it tries to change the rules of the game. In doing so, it is the only one whose morality comes under a shroud. So, the BJP, which once went after the UPA government over the AgustaWestland chopper scam on the basis of leaked documents in the Press, has bolted from its position under fire over the Rafale deal, for its survival as a ruling party. It has sought a dismissal of the review petitions on the Rafale contract in the Supreme Court, which it says were based on stolen papers from the Defence Ministry, hence illegal, and even invoked the Official Secrets Act to go after the newspaper that published an article based on them. It insisted, rather vindictively one might add, the paper reveal its source. The problem with shooting the messenger is not that it is a deflection from the core issue in this case the revelation of parallel negotiations for Rafale but an implicit threat to democratic principles, constitutional rights and freedom of speech besides a blatant attempt to circumscribe everything unpalatable within statutes. The petitioner has as much a right to seek answers as does the Press to publish what it believes is necessary for the citizenry to know, in this case the whole truth. And a nation cannot be force-fed an official line, for it will regurgitate it on the table and turn it into a bigger mess. Just because a subject is unpalatable, does it behove the government to shove it under the carpet? Or contravene procedural propriety? In the process, what could be a non-issue has returned to be an electoral issue again, a headache the government could do without.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court nullified the flaky defence by asking the government why the documents, even if stolen, "were untouchable" and not worthy of the court`s consideration nevertheless. Even CJI Ranjan Gogoi made a cogent point, "If an act of corruption is committed in the Rafale deal, will the government take shelter behind the Official Secrets Act? I am not saying it is committed, but if it is, then the government cannot take shelter behind OSA." Faced with an opprobrium, an aggressive Attorney General, instead of seeing reason and an advisory value in the CJI`s observation, took on the top court, saying it was examining a defence deal like an administrative issue and that "no other court in any other country will do it." In its rejoinder, the bench, therefore, brought up Bofors, the Congress` albatross, to demonstrate its fairness and probity. "There were allegations of corruption in Bofors. Now will you say the same thing that a criminal court shouldn`t look into any such document in that case?" it asked, putting the government on the backfoot. Certain things just cannot be politicised. Nobody doubts the efficacy of Rafales but the AG`s claim that the petition be dismissed on grounds of national security, now that we needed them to counter Pakistani F-16s, was not at all a legal counterpoint but political rhetoric. The court rightly pointed out that even national security could not be used to cover up an alleged corruption probe and wondered, "is there a liberty to commit corruption?" Though the AG tried to belittle the duel as partisan and the petitions immaterial, the apex court should be lauded for reminding the polity the basic tenets of a democracy and free Press. That the Fourth Estate is a valuable check on the system, that it should be fearless in investigating truths, that whistleblowers must be protected, that the discourse of corruption is free from intimidation and threats. It also reminded that the law of the land should not be swayed by prevailing sentiment but rather go by the facts of the case. Politically, BJP is in a pickle of its own making while the Congress has rescued a plank that was sinking post-IAF strikes. If the leaks happened, why didn`t the BJP challenge their bonafides earlier? As usual there are more questions than answers.