New Delhi: In a bid to extricate itself from the ongoing political crisis, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) launched a broadside against the damaging findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on the allocation of second-generation (2G) telecom spectrum.
Coincidentally, it came on the same day that leaks of an alleged confession by Swami Aseemanand of his role in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast was published by PTI. The leaks could potentially politically hurt the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because of its indirect associations with Aseemanand. It is likely to be taken up at the meeting of the BJP’s national executive that begins on Saturday in Guwahati.
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The Congress seized on this. “Reports about the confessions of Aseemanand, which have appeared in the media, have brought out the new terror face of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). This is Sanghi terrorism, which poses a big threat to the country,” party spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed told reporters.
The opposition as well as political analysts were quick to say that the UPA was seeking to distract attention from the politically sensitive subjects of alleged acts of corruption and resurgent inflationary pressures in the economy.
“It is unfortunate that the Congress is indulging in this tactic of diverting attention. One crime does not justify the other,” said Subrata Mukherjee, a professor in the department of political science at Delhi University.
Less than two months after CAG submitted its report on the alleged 2G scam to Parliament, newly appointed minister for communications and information technology, Kapil Sibal, dismissed the findings of the report, calling it “utterly erroneous”.
“We are extremely pained at methodology adopted by CAG for arriving at 2G spectrum figures...that have no basis,” he said at a press conference on Friday.
According to Sibal, the estimated loss of Rs 1.76 trillion was highly exaggerated. “CAG has done injustice to itself, and the opposition is doing injustice to aam aadmi,” he said.
According to Sibal, the total “perceived” loss was Rs 17,700 crore. This is because, he argued, operators had only been given spectrum of up to 4.4MHz, which is “start-up” spectrum. This start-up spectrum has always been allotted free of cost along with the licence, for which the firms paid Rs 1,658 crore, he added.
Sibal, who was appointed telecom minister after his predecessor A. Raja was forced out following allegations of corruption, however, conceded that there was “something wrong prima facie” in the spectrum allocation. “The regulations were not followed correctly and those aspects are being looked into,” he said.
Sibal also said the policy followed by his ministry over the past few years is the same policy made by the earlier BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government. “No opposition has the right to make sure the Constitution does not work,” Sibal said, referring to the fact that the opposition did not allow the winter session of Parliament to function as the government did not agree to a joint parliamentary committee to inquire into the spectrum allocation.
According to Mukherjee, the government was setting a bad precedent by attacking a constitutional body.
“It’s a bad trend that you respect it as long as it is good for you and you start criticizing it when things go wrong for you,” he said. “Polity depends on certain do’s and don’ts, conventions and traditions which you have to respect.”
PTI reported that investigators probing the Samjhauta Express blast case have found evidence of Aseemanand’s alleged involvement in the 2007 terror act. Aseemanand belongs to a group associated with the RSS, the ideological parent of the BJP. As many as 68 people were killed when RDX-laden explosives were triggered on the train, the oldest rail link between India and Pakistan, on 17 February 2007. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has been probing the case.
The BJP said the government was trying to divert attention from corruption allegations.
BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “Our stand is very clear that terror has no religion and it should be fairly and properly investigated... But the Congress does have a notorious record of misusing investigative agencies like the CBI and, therefore, this selective leak by the agency does seem curious... We condemned this abuse of the agency, which is being done to divert attention from the muck of scams that the Congress has landed itself into.”
Ruhi Tewari of Mint and PTI contributed to this story.