The Supreme Court has reserved its decision on the Rafale deal signed by the Narendra Modi government. As per various reports, they are currently examining the details submitted by GOI in response to the petition. The verdict can go either way. But what will be the political implications of this verdict (only with respect to LS 2019)? Let us try to examine.
The questions our petitioners are trying to ask are,
- Was there an urgent need to go for a Government to Government contract? – This has been answered by the Air Force in court by pointing out that our current aircraft is between 3rd and 4th whereas the Rafale is 5th Indian Air Force’s declining squadron strength is also public knowledge, so reinforcements were never in question.
- Pricing – SC has stated that it will focus only on the procedure as of now and pricing is not under consideration.
- Deliberate procedural lapses to favour Anil Ambani – This is what SC will evaluate and deliver its verdict on.
Case I: SC decides that further probe is required here and orders an investigation
- Anti-Corruption has been Modi’s biggest wildcard. So, if SC takes this route, his image will be hit. He will not be able to use UPA’s corruption with the same gusto as he has done so far. His popularity will also suffer and Rahul’s attack’s will get more intense.
- The investigation will take time. Till an incriminating investigation report comes out, Modi will continue to be the best bet that NDA has for 2019. Hence it is very unlikely that NDA allies will depart but they will try to get a better bargain in terms of seats.
- Rahul’s stock will grow. People will start taking his allegations seriously which is a major boost to any politician, particularly to Rahul with the kind of reputation which he has. However, given UPA’s corrupt image which is still relatively fresh in the voter’s mind, at best he will be able to convey “Modi is also like us” message to the voters.
- The binding glue for mahagathbandhan is inversely proportional to BJP’s perceived strength. Only if BJP is perceived as undefeatable, regional parties will come together in a pre-poll alliance. If BJP isn’t perceived to be as solid as earlier, regional parties will try their luck in 2019 independently to maximize seats and drive a hard bargain later. INC will also be tempted to fight on the maximum number of seats by themselves.
Though this is a best-case scenario for Non-BJP parties, BJP’s loss will not directly translate into a direct gain for INC.
Case II: SC decides that there has been no procedural lapse and closes the petition
- What a day it will be for BJP. Their spokespersons will be all over news channels and social media calling Rahul’s bluff. Also, Modi will wear the SC decision as a badge of honour. Not only will his non-corrupt image be enhanced but he will go on the offensive and question the opposition’s motivation in scuttling a deal which is totally in the national interest. Wonder if anyone will have an answer then.
- Rahul has placed all his eggs in one basket. His bag of tricks has only one trick – Rafale. Once that trick is exposed what credibility will he have? Over the last few months, he has spent his limited political capital on building a case on Rafale. Once this rug is pulled from beneath, he has no ground to stand on.
- From an ally perspective, Modi will have better bargaining power with NDA allies. Also with INC stock falling, prospects of getting a few more allies will also increase for NDA.
- With Modi’s popularity going up, the temptation for Mahagathbandhan will definitely increase among regional players. But INC will be a marginal player in the coalition with no bargaining power whatsoever.
In politics, uncertainty is a helpful tool. As long as Rafale was being used to build uncertainty in the voter’s mind, it was useful. But now, this seems like “cut the branch that you are sitting on” kind of a strategy. This is no longer a zero-sum game.
In case verdict goes against the government, the opposition will be able to stand and make a fight out of it but is by no means a winning shot. Modi will no longer flaunt his non-corrupt image but it will be very difficult for the opposition to label PM as corrupt based on procedural lapses. Plus the Indian Air force has at multiple times made a case in favour of the aircraft, so deal in itself will never be in doubt.
However, if the verdict goes against our petitioners, consequences will be disastrous for Rahul. Modi will contrast UPA’s indecisive approach with his attitude. Modi’s campaign will begin where Rahul’s campaign ends. Our Bhushan’s, Shourie’s and Sinha’s would unknowingly have laid down a strong foundation for Modi in 2019.