New Delhi: A report published by The Times of India on 1 November which said that the finance ministry had sent its by-now famous memo on the so-called 2G scam at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) could make life difficult for the government in the coming weeks.
The note essentially said that the allotment of spectrum to telcos on allegedly favourable terms in 2008 could have been stayed had then finance minister P. Chidambaram (now the home minister) stuck to his stand that spectrum was a precious resource and needed to be auctioned.
Along with a late-September letter by current finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh explaining the contents of the note, and which said that the reference to Chidambaram was inserted by the cabinet secretariat (and not the finance ministry) with the full knowledge of the PMO, the report could, apart from providing fresh ammunition to the opposition parties, also have some impact on legal proceedings in an important case related to the 2G scam.
Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy has filed a submission in the Supreme Court seeking to investigate the role of Chidambaram in the 2G scam. The court will soon pronounce its decision on Swamy’s plea.
Former telecom minister A. Raja, now in jail pending investigation of the scam, has all along claimed that the allotment of spectrum was in keeping with the government’s then policy and that the Prime Minister had signed off on it. Over the course of the well-publicized investigation into the scam, the lines between the policy and the improper procedures followed while implementing it seem to have blurred with the result that all, from the Prime Minister downwards, have been trying to distance themselves from what was essentially the government’s own policy.
Following Swamy’s plea, the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been demanding an investigation into Chidambaram’s role. The information that the paragraphs on Chidambaram’s role were inserted by the cabinet secretariat with the knowledge of the PMO only “reinforces BJP’s stand that Chidambaram must be interrogated”, said party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman.
And it may not stop at that, said a member of a parliamentary committee looking into the issue.
“The fresh revelations and the media reports will strengthen the demand for seeking the Prime Minister’s appearance before the committees. The final decision is up to the heads of the panels, but there will be demands from the members,” a senior member of the joint parliamentary committee said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is also looking into the matter.
Opposition parties had earlier demanded that the Prime Minister should appear before PAC; in response, Singh had expressed his willingness to do so.
The communication between the finance ministry, the PMO and the cabinet secretariat along with the letter written by Mukherjee has been sent to both parliamentary panels.
At one level, the documents, which have been reviewed by Mint, point to the government’s ability to present one defence. And it reflects badly on the Prime Minister, said S.L. Rao, sociologist and chairman of Bangalore-based Institute for Social and Economic Change. “It shows that he does not have the capability to prevent damaging moves of his officials—the note was affecting two of his senior ministers. If it has happened, it’s just because of his lack of capability.”
Yet, both Rao and Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst, believe that the recent revelations are unlikely to affect the electoral outcome in 2014, when the general election is due. That is because for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, “the worst (that can happen) has already happened”, as Mrug put it.
The Congress party ruled out any risk of political damage to it. “There is nothing in the letter that can be politically damaging,” party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said.
Both the BJP and the Communist parties say they will highlight issues raised by the recent revelations during the winter session of Parliament that starts on 22 November.
“The new disclosures reveal that the entire government, right from the Prime Minister downwards, are involved in this. The more each one tries to get out, the more entangled it becomes. This will be a major issue in the winter session,” said Communist Party of India-Marxist politburo member S. Ramachandran Pillai.
That could mean more disruptions, and less work