Rahul Gandhi Wants To Ask Tough Questions But Has Attended Only Two Of 14 Defence Committee Meetings Since September 2019, Skipped Tour To China Border

Rahul Gandhi Wants To Ask Tough Questions But Has Attended Only Two  Of 14 Defence Committee Meetings Since September 2019, Skipped Tour To China BorderRahul Gandhi. (Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Rahul Gandhi was vacationing outside the country during some of the meetings of the Standing Committee on Defence.

On Monday (16 December), former Congress president Rahul Gandhi walked out of a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee along with two other party colleagues claiming that it was wasting its time on insignificant things instead of discussing ‘strategic issues of national security’.

The Congress has since claimed that Rahul Gandhi, who wanted to discuss the situation on the Line of Actual Control with China, was not allowed to speak on this issue during the meeting in which top officials of the defence establishment, including Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Army Vice Chief Satinder Kumar Saini and Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar, were present.

“The leadership should...focus on how to push back the enemy and support and strengthen the armed forces rather than dictating the colour of their uniforms...The political leadership should instead provide hot tents, boots and equip the soldiers who are braving out at the border and are fighting the Chinese in Ladakh,” Rahul Gandhi was quoted as saying by an MP present at the meeting.

Although he was eager to ask tough questions at this meeting, apparently on an issue which was not on the agenda, Rahul Gandhi has attended only two of the 14 meetings of the Standing Committee on Defence since September 2019.

In 2019-20, under the 17th Lok Sabha, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence met 12 times — 27 September 2019, 14 November 2019, 15 November 2019, 18 November 2019, 9 December 2019, 17 February 2020, 18 February 2020, 19 February 2020, 20 February 2020, 21 February 2020, 12 March 2020 and 11 September 2020. Out of these 12 meetings, Gandhi attended only one — held on 11 September 2020, according to the Lok Sabha website.

In 2020-21, the standing committee has met twice. Rahul Gandhi skipped the first of these two meetings, held on 21 October to set the agenda for the year — to “chalk out the future programme of the Committee” and for “selection of subjects for examination by the Committee during the year 2020-21”.

In the second meeting held yesterday (16 December), Gandhi walked out with two other party colleagues saying the committee was wasting time by discussing uniforms of the armed forces instead of ‘strategic issues of national security’.

Gandhi, however, was absent from all of the meetings of the committee held to discuss critical issues since September 2019.

When the standing committee sat down with the representatives of the Defence Ministry on 14 November 2019 to discuss defence budget, procurement policy and capital outlay on defence services, Gandhi did not attend the meeting.

Similarly, when the Standing Committee on Defence met to discuss the performance of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in February this year, Rahul Gandhi skipped the meeting.

BRO, an agency under the Defence Ministry, is tasked with the construction and maintenance of strategically important roads along India’s borders, including the LAC with China where the two countries are currently locked in a standoff.

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 LAC in Ladakh.

Between 17 and 21 February this year, the committee met five times. Rahul Gandhi was not present in any of these meetings. The committee’s meeting schedule clashed with Rahul Gandhi’s foreign vacation plans. A report in India Today says he 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.

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.

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.

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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.

Prakhar Gupta is a senior sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets @prakharkgupta.



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