Friday, October 7, 2011

A mysterious reluctance

A Surya Prakash

It remains a mystery as to why Manmohan Singh took so long to accept the demand for a JPC inquiry into the 2G Spectrum scam.

Much like the reluctant bridegroom who is kidnapped and dragged into the mandap kicking and screaming and married to the daughter of a mafia don in the badlands of Bihar, the Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, has, much against his will and with the utmost aversion, given in to the Opposition’s demand for the constitution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to inquire into the 2G Spectrum scam.

Going by his statements, the Prime Minister’s discomfort is obvious. He suddenly finds that much of the goodwill that he had earned as a ‘clean’ politician has evaporated over the last six months and, for reasons best known to him, he fears that a full-fledged JPC inquiry will further undermine his position. In his view, his conduct is above reproach while all others — the media, the Opposition, some of his Ministers and his coalition partners — are blame-worthy on one count or the other. Therefore, like the reluctant bridegroom who goes through the rituals while someone holds a gun to his head, Mr Singh behaved as if he was doing something under duress as Parliament went through the formality of constituting the JPC.

Mr Singh gave vent to his annoyance over the JPC issue a few days before the opening of Parliament and reiterated some of these arguments when the matter came up in the Lok Sabha. According to him, the media is to blame for all the muck-raking that it has been doing since last September. He told editors of television news channels that as a result of the media’s focus on these scandals “an impression has gone round that we are a scam-driven country” and that such coverage is willy-nilly “weakening the self-confidence of the people”.

Therefore, he wanted the foot soldiers of the media to return to their barracks (in the national interest) because it is not good to “focus excessively on the negative features” as this will only result in the people losing their self-confidence. Mr Singh’s media advisory was much like that of Mrs Indira Gandhi. This was her view of the media, too, in the 1970s around the time her position as Prime Minister became untenable.

The Prime Minister’s next target has been the Bharatiya Janata Party. This party, he says, has been raking up the 2G Spectrum scandal because his Government proceeded against a Minister in the Gujarat Government headed by Mr Narendra Modi. No one who has an understanding of politics will ever take Mr Singh’s theory seriously.

First, no political party will make such a disproportionate trade-off and let go of the biggest scandal the country has seen merely to secure some legal relief for a Minister in a State Government. Second, even if the BJP was willing, the others in the Opposition and the media — both of whom are sensing a kill — would ever let go. Further, is not the Prime Minister aware that the Supreme Court is monitoring the case involving the 2G Spectrum scam? Will the court back off if the BJP ‘loses interest’?

Meanwhile, Mr Singh has been repeatedly asserting that neither he nor his Government has done any wrong. He wrote letters to the Telecom Minister, listed a number of issues and mentioned a number of concerns. A Raja, the then Telecom Minister, said auction of spectrum was not suggested by either the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India or the Telecom Commission, arguing, “It (auction) will not give level playing field for new players.”

Further, Mr Singh found nothing wrong in the licence-holders making a killing soon after getting the allotment. “The basic policy was as per prevailing practice — I don’t know the motivations of those who got licences (and sold their equity for higher prices ). If they have to roll out, they need money, they can do so by selling equity or by borrowing money,” he has said. Even more preposterous has been his comparison of spectrum subsidy with subsidy on food and fertilisers.

Finally, the Prime Minister has shifted the blame onto his coalition partners. “There is a coalition dharma in coalition politics — some compromises have to be made in managing coalition Governments,” he told the news television editors. In Parliament, Mr Singh has repeated this theme and said the Government agreed to a JPC “as the country can ill-afford disruption of the crucial Budget session”.

The Prime Minister’s protestations and stiff resistance to a JPC inquiry go against established traditions in democracies and in our Parliament as well. Not only have we had three JPCs until now, we have seen the enlargement of Parliament’s powers and responsibilities through two of them.

The JPC that was set up in August 1992 to inquire into irregularities in securities and banking transactions set new benchmarks for parliamentary scrutiny. Since Direction 99 of the Directions of the Speaker says a Minister shall not be called to a committee of this nature, the chairman of the JPC made a special request to waive this rule. The Speaker granted the request “in view of the uncommon nature of the case and the views expressed by leaders of all political parties”.

Armed with this power, the JPC called for information in writing from as many as 10 Ministers and former Ministers (Mr Manmohan Singh, B Shankaranand, VP Singh, Mr Yashwant Sinha, SP Malaviya, Madhu Dandavate, Chinta Mohan, Madhavarao Scindia, Mr ND Tiwari and Mr P Chidambaram). It also recorded the evidence of three of them including that of Mr Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister.

Yet another JPC which adopted this approach was the one constituted in April 2001 to look into “the stock market scam and matters relating thereto”. This JPC too sought waiver of Direction 99 of the Speaker. It said it wanted to call for information from some Ministers. With the Speaker’s permission, it called for written statements from two Ministers and two former Ministers and later recorded their evidence. Mr Singh and Mr Chidambaram appeared before this JPC as well.

Given the fact that 14 Ministers and former Ministers have been summoned by JPCs in the past and Mr Singh has appeared before two of them, the Government’s obstinacy vis-à-vis a JPC inquiry into the 2G Spectrum scam is certainly inexplicable. And after agreeing to set up a JPC, there was no logic to the Government’s initial move to limit the size of the committee to 21 when the earlier committees had 30 members each.

Hopefully, since Mr Singh refuses to come clean, the JPC inquiry and the investigations monitored by the Supreme Court will one day throw light on his reluctance to have the 2G Spectrum scam investigated.

Source : (The Pioneer)

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