Rahul Gandhi, India-China tension and defence committee meetings he has not attended

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been relentless in his attack on the Narendra Modi government. He has made consistent claims in the last two months that China has captured territories on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion that “no one has entered Indian territory or captured any military post”, Rahul Gandhi has been putting out posts on Twitter quoting people of Ladakh to back his Chinese intrusion claim. “Someone is lying,” Rahul Gandhi says.

The current campaign against the Modi government is, in a way, an extension of the series that began just before the Lok Sabha election in 2019 when Rahul Gandhi alleged corruption in the Rafale deal. He has mostly taken to social media in hitting out at the Modi government over unemployment, economic slowdown, and the handling of Covid-19 pandemic in enforcing coronavirus lockdown and the subsequent unlock phases.

While Rahul Gandhi received support of Opposition parties on the other issues, he is fighting a lonely political battle over the military tension with China. Every other political party has preferred to bury its differences with the BJP to back the Modi government on the China issue.

In doing so, Rahul Gandhi in fact invited the ire of former Defence Minister and Congress’s ally NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who reminded him of the 1962 war saying China occupied the Aksai Chin territory during his great-grandfather’s rule.

This is the same taunt that the BJP throws at the Congress, whenever it tries to corner the Modi government over China. Now, the BJP is trying to make light of Rahul Gandhi’s criticism of the Modi government’s China policy, and stand on recent military tensions in Ladakh by referring to the Congress leader’s “seriousness” on the subject of defence.

A host of BJP leaders including party president JP Nadda questioned Rahul Gandhi’s absence from the parliamentary committee on defence. Nadda wrote on Twitter on Monday, “Rahul Gandhi does not attend a single meeting of Standing Committee on Defence. But sadly, he continues to demoralise the nation, question the valour of our armed forces and do everything that a responsible opposition leader should not do.”

For two tweets of Nadda, Congress spokesperson Ranjdeep Surjewala put out eight tweets to counter BJP president’s barb at Rahul Gandhi.

The Standing Committee on Defence is a 31-member parliamentary body – 21 from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha. Standing Committees are referred to as mini parliament and emerged as the real platform of constructive parliamentary debates during 1990s when parliamentary proceedings increasingly turned into an exercise of chaos, din and politicking.

Headed by BJP parliamentarian Juel Oram, the defence committee has held 11 meetings till date. Rahul Gandhi has actually not attended a single meeting.

The defence committee plays the most crucial parliamentary role in shaping the defence policy of the country – including allotment to defence ministry and respective wings of the armed forces, legislative requirement of Indian defence and military structure, scrutinising the performances of the defence related departments and stream-lining a long-term defence policy.

Recommendations made by standing committees are of enormous significance, and carry the maximum weight during approval by parliament even though they are not binding in nature.

Rahul Gandhi’s long and continued absence from such a committee does reduce the weight of his criticism of the defence policies of the Modi government and offer the BJP a political shield to evade even the legitimate questions raised by the Congress leader.

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