Mainstream Weekly

Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2019 > Polling Process Starts, SC Ruling on Rafale

Mainstream, VOL LVII No 17 New Delhi April 13, 2019

Polling Process Starts, SC Ruling on Rafale}

Saturday 13 April 2019, by SC


The first phase of polling in the seven-phase 17th Lok Sabha elections today across 20 States and Union Territories has witnessed sporadic violence with police firing in Nawada (Bihar) while certain areas of Andhra experienced skirmishes between members of contending parties, notably the ruling TDP and Opposition YSR Congress. The polling percentage too was somewhat low in comparison with the ones in previous elections.

However, what is significant is that eventually the Election Commission has taken certain positive steps to ensure free elections through a level playing field. Thus by staying the release of a new Hindi film, PM Narendra Modi, a biopic on the head of the Union Government, the Commission has sought to allay fears, raised by several Opposition parties as well as a large band of eminent retired bureaucrats, that it is displaying bias in the conduct of elections by tilting towards the party in power.

The use of armed forces in the ruling party’s election campaign has been forbidden by the Commission. Much as this is welcome the fact is that such an order is being frequently and blatantly violated by the Modi dispensation. This too must be closely monitored by the EC and practical remedial measures adopted forthwith.

The Supreme Court’s latest order on the Rafale issue is of special importance. The Hindu, which had published relevant documents related to the Rafale deal, today editorially pointed out that

It would have been a travesty had the government succeeded blocking judicial scrutiny of these documents, as they disclosed significant details about the decision-making process. The government’s desperate attempts to prevent the court from relying on these papers included a claim of privilege under the Evidence Act, a threat of invoking the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and accusation that the published documents were “stolen” ones. Later, it toned down the allegation by saying the original document had not be stolen, and what were published were unauthorized photocopies. None of these claims impressed the court which relied on the principle that how a piece of evidence is obtained is immaterial, as long as it is relevant to adjudicating an issue.

This is definitely a setback for the executive howsoever much those in the Treasury Benches attempt to obfuscate the essence of the order. Basically the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, while defending The Hindu’s publication of the documents, averred that

the right of such publication would seem to be in consonance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.

Furthermore, he referred to the US Supreme Court’s decision on the Pentagon Papers and noted that

neither the OSA nor any other law vests any power in the executive to stop publication of documents marked ‘secret’ or the placing of such documents before a court of law which may be called upon to adjudicate a legal issue.

This was, as CPI leader D. Raja declared, “a setback and a slap in the face for the government” as the Supreme Court “has rejected the government’s argument”. Hence it was clear, he underlined, that there was no clean chit to the government as both Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley were claiming. The observations of two Opposition leaders, CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury and Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, are also noteworthy. According to Yechury, “They (Modi and his government) tried to evade accountability, denied a JPC, hid the price from the CAG, sought to first mislead and then stall any hearing in the Supreme Court” and yet it was important that the “culprits are booked”. As for Surjewala, he maintained that the “skeletons in the Rafale scam are tumbling out one by one”, adding: “And now there is ‘no Official Secrets Act’ to hide behind.”

The SC’s ruling in the matter is doubtless praiseworthy. It resuscitates one’s faith in the Apex Court’s capability to safeguard our democratic credentials threatened by those presently in power.

April 11 S.C.

Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.