He had info and power, but instead chose to give his conscience call a miss
TR jawahar | November 20, 2010
The spectrum scam is not just about A Raja. To believe that he could have single-handedly caused a loss of Rs1.76 lakh crores is to overstate his capacity and calculating abilities. Nor is this a system failure: On the contrary the system that includes various ministries, departments, official watchdogs like CAG and the judiciary has actually worked. The media again did its bit while whistleblowers ran out of breath. Opposition parties, whatever their motives, cried themselves hoarse and some like Subramanian Swamy went even further, seeking statutory permission for prosecuting the minister. The scam itself is almost three years old, a legacy from UPA 1 that kept rising in value.
So, how is it that despite such a public run it has taken this long and this much hue and cry just to cross the first hurdle, namely the minister? Now, let us not delude ourselves by conjuring up an invisible hand; there was a ‘hand’ alright, but the point is it wasn’t invisible. Rather, at every stage and after every fresh expose, this hand in full public view not just protected and preserved the erring minister but also prevented prying official eyes from probing further. To cut a sordid story short, the hand is none other than that of the super-clean, super-honest honourable prime minister Manmohan Singh. Of course, one is tempted to point to the Highest Command above him, but some divine law ordains that while credits are welcome, the unaccountable but all powerful Mother Superior is always deemed above suspicion.
So, with he being the nation’s official prime minister, the buck, in our view stops with M Singh. Talking of real bucks, the nation will never know the quantum and real beneficiaries of the loot though the loss and the loser are now apparent, give or take a few thousand crores. And rest assured, a few corporates will get whacked and some scapegoats that just grazed the surface may get hacked, but that will be it. Just as all the suitcases in the world cannot hold this booty all the laws of the land too are incapable of handling this monstrous scam. And just as this sinister scandal is beyond the intellect of a mediocre minister, the carpet baggers too would number beyond the obvious suspect, given the stakes. But since some ‘hands’ do not leave finger prints, they cannot also be nailed. But in M Singh’s case there is an additional insulation: even his detractors somehow vouch for his honesty. M Singh would not have benefitted, goes the usual consolatory refrain. What a strange and self-defeating interpretation of honesty! For, that line is fine if he were a mere individual walking down Janpath and not stopping or stooping to pocket a purse dropped by a passer-by. But how can an ‘honest PM’, under oath to protect the nation, wink at ‘dishonest’ colleagues helping themselves to public coffers?
The supreme court has now thrown the gauntlet. It has castigated the PM for sitting on a permission to prosecute the minister for almost a year now. So with the SC zeroing in, the apologists of the PM are now dishing out another set of defences: The PM had indeed ‘expressed concern’ in writing as early as 2007 at the way spectrum was allocated. The PM was worried; The PM warned; The PM sought details; The PM raised objections; Fine, but did the PM act? Indeed it appears that virtually everyone in the government, from the law ministry to a lowly clerk, knew something sinister and serious was afoot in the telecom ministry. The honest PM, who had both the prior info and power, besides the sworn duty, to say ‘halt’ instead chose to give all the calls, including his own conscience-call, a miss! Now, who caused the loss to the nation? But all the ‘worrying and warning’ are just arguments of the apologists of the clean M Singh, predisposed to his innocence, come what may. But M Singh himself has not been that circumspect. In fact, all through he had stoutly defended Raja, a shield that the latter consistently used to great effect. Here are some gems from a clean man, consistently and conspicuously cleaning up a colleague’s dirty linen: “What Raja did was implement a policy that was already in place”, “It would have been unfair to new entrants if a new yardstick was used”, “...the department has not flouted policy. You have to look at it in proper perspective”, “I have also discussed the issue with Raja ... he only implemented an earlier policy”, “... allegations being made by the opposition against Raja are not necessarily correct”. His government till the latest affidavit has only been defending the (former) minister.
Forget politics. Now, what happened to M Singh’s natural instincts as an economist? Is this acclaimed financial wizard who launched liberalisation and is credited to have lifted millions above the poverty line and someone who even the recession-hit US is supposed to have consulted for some tips, so naive as to have missed the pumpkin buried in the coalition rice? Less smarter souls have come up with some sterling statistics: The lost revenue, that is about 15% of the union budget and equals the national defence budget, could have wiped out half of the fiscal deficit; one third of it would have funded the entire education budget; half of it could have wiped the tear of the eye of every farmer; Just a fraction would have ensured health and welfare for multitudes. Now, where was M Singh’s economic eminence languishing when this crime against India’s aam aadmi was perpetrated right under his nose? Or has he lost touch with financial numbers, concerned as he is with parliamentary numbers?
Honesty is not a transferable tender. Still the honest M Singh lent his credibility as a camouflage to cover up his benefactors, his party boss and allies. The post of a prime minister is an absolute constitutional authority. The very honourable sardar made that sacred office of the PM a puppet domain. The cabinet’s collective responsibility is a kind of sacrament. But the clean PM’s protective hand ensured that a lone minister can violate the same with impunity. M Singh is touted as the leader of the fastest emerging economy. He just set back that economy by a cool Rs 1.76 lakh crores, the greatest single rip-off in human history. Now, that’s quite a record for an honest, honourable man!
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