What Rafale Has Done to India's Institutions. Three vital constitutional functionaries let India's citizens down – the Attorney General for India, the SC and the CAG

by Sudhansu Mohanty

Every time the Rafale deal makes news and raises its ugly head, one thought surfaces in my own. Not the contents of the deal per se, which by itself was bad, but the larger picture — the spinoffs from this deal have cascaded across Indian institutions and breached their functional integrity.

Many institutions failed the nation. The defence and civil bureaucracies of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) were at the forefront of activity, but there were others too: the Ministry of Law and Justice (MoL&J); the cabinet committee on security (CCS), and parliament; the highest law officer in the land, the Attorney General for India, and two other constitutional authorities, the Supreme Court (SC), and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG); and the independent media.

Surprisingly, the two ministries, the MoD and MoL&J, normally subservient and despite being part of the executive, somewhat played their part, though the MoD could have done better. The CCS, as part of the executive, and parliament, courtesy the brute majority of the government, didn’t whimper much.

The onus lay upon the Attorney General for India, the SC and the CAG to ensure the correct interpretation of procedure and processes laid down, and establish the rule of law in a constitutional democracy built on the architecture of separation of power, checks and balances, and an independent judiciary.

Sadly, all the three constitutional functionaries let the citizens down. The Attorney General for India morphed into the Attorney General for the government of India, equating the government with the nation. The Hon’ble SC, the apex court, went wrong on multiple counts — not least in a judgment that bristled with inconceivable wrongs (reproducing the government’s “sealed cover” note; pronouncing that pricing details had been shared with the CAG and that the report had been examined by the public accounts committee with a redacted portion placed before parliament); in ignoring such vital aspects as transfer of technology and indigenous licensed production in India, but in failing to uphold challenges posed to the sanctity of rules, procedures, and the rule of law, which forms the very basis of our constitutional democracy.

The other constitutional institution, the CAG, made a mockery of its role in a theatre of disgrace, in failing to put under the microscope the egregious removal of an integrity/anti-corruption clause, and in giving selective attention to mask critical details and escape the public gaze. This shall forever remain amongst the creme de la creme of infractions perpetrated by the nation’s supreme audit institution.

As a proud, ordinary citizen of this nation, I felt lacerated when I read the report and had highlighted it at the time:

“As a citizen I feel distraught for these gloss-overs in a report based on documents I can’t access because it is off-limit now for me in the name of secrecy.

Isn’t this then the audit equivalent of the “sealed cover” submitted to the Supreme Court? The question that shall keep lurking in my mind and the minds of other citizens is: hasn’t the CAG erred on facts and analysis, much as the Hon’ble Supreme Court did in its judgment?”

Two years down the line, as an ordinary citizen, I am wrought up beyond relief. Not just by the Rafale deal but by the virus of smart management that’s morally problematic and gutted institutions and public offices. With manifest “wrongs” buried fathoms deep and “righted” by constitutional institutions by stomping down of the fundamental scaffolding, what pathogen has this process of Rafalisation summoned up, as lesser institutions and lesser mortals emulate it?

Consider the long shadow that it’ll cast on national norms, acts and society:

1. We’ve no rule of law governing us, and even the semblance of it is choking in its death throes, and can be whittled away piecemeal and replaced with new ones!

2. The basis of the New Society is: Show me the man and I’ll show you the rule, or if warranted, even rewrite the playbook!

3. The government can wilfully act its way, or show us the highway, untrammelled by any constitutional provisions to checkmate it!

4. The lesser institutions and the lesser mortals manning these institutions can imitate the higher institutions with impunity and disdain!

5. The common man is easily trampled upon and crushed!

6. If a citizen raises his democratic voice of dissent, he can be told to seek out another land, in another clime to claim his place in the sun!

These are mere illustrations of the dismay suffusing me. What about the abrasions caused to the society we live in? A nation with its governing prescriptions infracted, a society that’s been Rafalised? Much beyond the visible, shall be the cascading effect wrought on norms and the psyche of the people. Power is the bully-pulpit for shearing democratic norms, to force citizens to act “obediently” by gaslighting them. And then, in utter self-abased gratification, to seek post-retirement sinecures, to leapfrog into governorships or membership in parliament’s elder chamber, or any such variant on offer, to be granted as a subtle reparative gesture by the Supreme Benefactor.

This, in short, is the rippling effect of Rafalisation — creating a grasping human psyche that cares not what befalls the ordinary person. Like politics is the art of the possible, this too is a “noble” act of self-preservation in a kakistocracy that pulverises established norms to build a society bereft of constitutional values and sans a moral compass.