Why Rahul Gandhi Skipped Meetings Of The Standing Committee On Defence And What He Missed As A Result
When it was time to attend crucial meetings of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, Rahul Gandhi, a member of the panel, chose to stay away from them.
“How dare China kill our soldiers?”
“How dare they take our land?”
“We need to know what has happened.”
“Have the Chinese occupied Indian territory in Ladakh?”
These are a few questions former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been asking on Twitter following clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in north eastern Ladakh’s Galwan River Valley on 15 June.
However, it seems, he wasn’t interested in asking questions and finding answers on critical matters related to defence before the ongoing standoff between India and China in eastern Ladakh made news nearly two months back.
The former Congress president, a report in The Print on 5 July revealed, has not attended any of the meetings of the Standing Committee on Defence, of which he is a member. The Standing Committee on Defence has held 11 meetings since it was reconstituted in September 2019 after the Lok Sabha elections.
The committee meets once in September 2019, thrice in November 2019, once in December 2019, five times in February 2020 and once in March 2020.
In February 2020, when the committee met between 17 and 21 of that month, Rahul Gandhi was not in the country. Rahul Gandhi, a report in India Today on his coronavirus-related tweets says, was in Italy for two weeks until 28 February.
Between September and December 2019, Rahul Gandhi undertook at least two (one, two) foreign trips lasting weeks although it is not clear if he was outside the country when the committee met five times in this duration.
In December 2019, Congress had to shift its ‘Bharat Bachao Rally’ from 1st of the month to 14th. Back then, The Print had reported, “Congress leaders are unsure if Rahul is even in the country — some say he came back to Delhi last week after a three-week hiatus, but then took off again.”
“According to a [Congress] leader close to the Gandhi scion, this is the sixth foreign trip he has taken since his resignation from the party presidency six months ago,” The Print had said in a report on 22 November 2019.
Clearly, Rahul Gandhi’s foreign vacations have prevented him from attending the meetings of the Standing Committee on Defence.
Officials of the Ministry of Defence and members of the armed forces (including the vice chief of the Indian Army, on some occasions) are present at all the meetings of the Standing Committee on Defence to answer the queries posed by its members. Among other things, the members of the committee are taken on field visits, including to border areas, and given presentations on critical issues.
At one such meeting in February 2020, a Power Point presentation on Border Roads Organisation (BRO) was made before the members of the committee.
The BRO has been entrusted with the construction of 61 strategic roads along India’s border with China. Speedy construction of some of these roads over the last few years appears to have irked China, and could be one of the reasons behind its aggressive behaviour along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.
Between 2016 and 2020-21, the allocation for these roads increased from about Rs 4,600 crore to Rs 11,800 crore. The speed of formation cutting, a process in road construction which involves fresh alignment and extensive earthwork, has more than doubled to 470 km per year from around 230 km until 2016. The rate of surfacing, which involves the laying of a layer of bituminous material, has increased to 380 km per year from 170 km per year in the past decade.
All of this information, or at least some of it, must have been part of the presentation given to the committee in February this year. The committee discussed matters related to the BRO again at its meeting in March 2019.
Not only all its meetings, Rahul Gandhi also skipped the study tour of the committee to border areas, including the Nathu La pass and Tawang.
The Standing Committee studied during this tour, among other things, "issues related to logistic support to the Indian Army and infrastructure development activities in the border areas of the North East".
The tour was organised between 4 and 9 November 2019. Rahul Gandhi, an IANS report on 28 October says, had left on a foreign trip.
Rahul Gandhi also missed briefings on other critical issues, such as the modernisation of the forces, responsibilities of the Chief of Defence Staff, and the integration of the three services and the defence budget.
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