The meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, held on 16 December 2020, was mired in controversy over Congress leader Rahul Gandhi walking out with two other party colleagues after saying he was not allowed to speak on the “serious national security” situation in eastern Ladakh despite giving notice in advance.
In his letter to Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla the following day, Gandhi wrote: “You are aware that we are currently facing a serious national security challenge on our borders and that China has forcibly occupied our territory and martyred 20 of our soldiers. There are many critical matters to discuss at a time like this.
I was therefore extremely disturbed to find that the Chief of Defence Staff and the top brass of the Army, Navy and Air Force, who have important matters to deal with, had been asked by the chairman to spend an entire afternoon explaining the colours and different types of uniforms and insignia worn by different ranks in our forces.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a section of the Indian media lampooned Rahul Gandhi, with some critics terming his walkout “grandstanding”, perhaps to score brownie points. Gandhi was also reminded of how he was absent from all the earlier 11 meetings of the committee held since its formation as part of the 17th Lok Sabha. A cursory look at the minutes of the 11 meetings, as noted in the committee’s Sixth Report on the defence ministry’s demands for grants for 2020-21, also indicates that barely 50 per cent of the members attend these meetings.
One of the two items on the meeting’s agenda — ‘An Introduction to the Rank Structure of the Defence Forces including their Uniforms, Stars and Badges’ — and the ad hominem-laced response to an important national security issue raised by a member, whatever his track record may be with respect to attendance, reveal the current state of one of the most important committees of the Indian parliament.