2G Scam Congress Infighting Hotting Up!
The ongoing struggle within the Congress party to apportion blame for the 2G scam became fiercer yesterday. A leading TV channel put out an exclusive report showing documents to prove that Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh after Mr A Raja’s intention against auctioning the 2G licenses had become known ordered the PMO to prepare an alternate note. The note was accordingly prepared in early January 2011 by Mr Pulak Chatterjee who was formerly a trusted aide of UPA Chairperson Mrs. Sonia Gandhi but is currently the Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Mr Chatterjee in his note made several recommendations including the decision to auction the Spectrum 2G licenses. The note was passed on to Mr TKA Nair who was the then Principal Secretary in PMO and is currently its advisor with the rank of a Minister of State. The revelation of this note considerably diluted the PM’s responsibility by indicating his effort to overturn former Telecom Minister Mr Raja’s decision to dispense with the auctioning of the 2G licenses.
NEW NOTE, OLD TUNE!
The note related to the spectrum licenses written on March 25 implicated Home Minister Mr Chidambaram when as the Finance Minister he initially opposed the decision not to auction the Spectrum 2G licenses but eventually he inexplicably allowed the decision to stand. This made his role complicit. A subsequent letter by Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee to the Prime Minister revealed however that the note had been prepared with inputs from the Law, Finance and Telecom ministries as well as the cabinet secretariat and the PMO. Now through a fresh official leak to the media it is revealed that the original anti-Chidambaram note was issued only on the insistence of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). This was recorded by Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee in a two page letter to the PM on September 26 immediately after the two had discussed the issue during their US visit. That letter has been leaked to the media only now. What does the timing signify?
Obviously this leak is part of the infighting within the Congress. The Finance Minister could not have leaked a note nailing the PM unless Mrs Sonia Gandhi gave the nod. If this surmise is correct the move to replace the Prime Minister is imminent. It may be pointed out that a financial consultancy outfit based in London in a recent website note claimed that the decision to replace the PM had already been taken. This attracted attention among analysts because the website is run by a member with close family links to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. It might also be recalled that over 80 MPs recently demanded a change of economic policy followed by the PM.
The most recently leaked letter by the Finance Minister clears Mr Mukherjee’s own role in exposing Mr Chidambaram by squarely blaming the PM. However, this Byzantine intrigue and inner party attacks are ultimately quite irrelevant. It was earlier pointed out in these columns that the leaked notes proved that all the ministers concerned were aware of what former Telecom Minister Mr Raja was deciding but did nothing to stop him. This made them all complicit. Section 10 of the Prevention of Corruption Act was quoted as indicating that the Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Home Minister and the former Law Minister could all be charged as abettors of corruption and were open to criminal proceedings. Indeed, much earlier correspondence between the Prime Minister and Mr Raja had been released in a contemporary that clearly proved that the Prime Minister was aware of Mr Raja’s decisions and had given tacit approval. Responding to that disclosure it was written in these columns on December 23, 2010: “Dr Manmohan Singh’s position as Prime Minister has become untenable. He must resign.” In fact if there was a modicum of genuine democratic functioning in the UPA the PM ought to have accepted constructive responsibility for the 2G spectrum scam when it surfaced and resigned in keeping with the established norms of genuine democracy. It is not just one or two ministers who need to resign. The whole cabinet must go. It is better for this government to go with the little grace yet possible instead of being thrown out in disgrace. By democratic norms the government should resign and seek a fresh mandate from the people. Provided of course the Congress party yet retains some minimal commitment to democracy. (RP)
However, before action could be taken on the alternate note Mr Raja within days pre-empted it by issuing the licenses. It suggests that Mr Raja may have been apprised of the new note. If so, who could have advised him? The contents of the note originally were known to Mr Nair and Mr Pulak Chatterjee. Possibly someone leaked the note. Most surprisingly, after this significant exclusive report broke over the TV channel, no newspaper reproduced it next day, including the daily newspapers aligned to the TV channel!
Meanwhile Mr Anna Hazare after a period of comparative peace between his Team and the government suddenly dashed off a new letter to the PM threatening to start a fresh fast and agitation if by the last day of the winter session of Parliament the Lokpal Bill was not passed. The Information and Broadcasting Minister Mrs. Ambika Soni reflected the surprise of many when she wondered what might have provoked Mr Hazare to issue his threat when apparently nothing new had occurred.
Other elements are also busy adding fuel to the fire. In the third week of October the Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to Anna Hazare, the Union government and the Maharashtra government on a petition filed by an advocate Mr Manohar Lal Sharma. The petitioner sought a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the alleged siphoning of funds given to Mr Anna Hazare’s Hind Swaraj Trust. The petitioner alleged: “It is a clear case of fraud, criminal breach of trust upon the state treasury played by respondent number four (Hazare), coupled with his associates/groups, politician friends for which despite having the Sawant Commission report of 2005, which disclosed the true admitted facts, state/central governments took no action till date.”
Mr Sharma’s exertions did not end there. Within a fortnight, at the start of this month he has filed a fresh Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court demanding that the government take steps to recover 2.5 billion Francs allegedly held in the account of the late Rajiv Gandhi in a Swiss bank account. He annexed a scanned copy of the report published in a 1991 issue of a Swiss magazine which provided details of the amount allegedly lying in the name of Rajiv Gandhi. Mr Sharma has close links with the Congress party, particularly with former Law Minister and current Karnataka Governor Mr HR Bhardwaj. It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court responds to the two petitions. November could be an eventful month.
By Rajinder Puri