New Delhi: Friction between the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Congress-led opposition could worsen after a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on Thursday acquitted all 17 accused in the 2G scam case, which contributed to the ouster of the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The 2G scam verdict comes as a setback to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA, which rode to power in 2014 on the plank of ending corruption in public life, using the 2G spectrum scandal and alleged irregularities in coal block allocations that dogged the second term of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
It’s also a shot in the arm to the Congress, now led by the recently anointed party president Rahul Gandhi, coming on the back of the party’s creditable performance in the recent Gujarat elections under his leadership.
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A 2010 Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report had estimated a presumptive loss of Rs1.76 trillion in the 2008 allocation of 2G spectrum and licences. In 2012, the Supreme Court cancelled the licences and ordered auction of the radiowaves.
On Thursday, the special CBI court found all the accused in the case, including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) politicians A. Raja and Kanimozhi, not guilty. Given that the DMK was a former partner in the UPA, the verdict could boost Congress attempts to stitch together a larger anti-BJP alliance in the country.
“The court’s judgement has to be respected. I am glad that the court has pronounced unambiguously. All the massive propaganda which was being done against the UPA was without any foundation. The judgement speaks for itself," former prime minister Manmohan Singh told reporters.
The NDA government said the verdict should not be treated as a “badge of honour" by the Congress. “The Congress is treating 2G scam verdict as a badge of honour, but its zero loss theory (in allocation of spectrum) was proven wrong when the Supreme Court quashed spectrum allocation in February 2012," Union finance minister Arun Jaitley told reporters.
Raja hit out at “vested interests" who he said had sensationalized “fabricated allegations," as he welcomed the ruling. “It has been repeatedly proven that the presumptive loss to the exchequer which formed the basis for the conspiracy theorists to run amok was cooked up," he said in a statement.
The political significance of the verdict can be understood from the fact that top Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma met Kanimozhi at her residence in the national capital. Senior party leaders said both Gandhi and Singh spoke to Kanimozhi soon after the verdict.
“It is a setback for the NDA because the entire anti-Congress narrative by the ruling alliance rested on the idea that Congress-led UPA leadership had indulged in corruption during the government. The CBI court doesn’t think so," said a senior NDA leader on condition of anonymity. “The ruling alliance will have to look at the anti-corruption narrative again. The verdict is in the favour of Congress and it will help the opposition further consolidate against the NDA."
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The opposition is expected to corner the government by flaunting the verdict both inside and outside Parliament. “The entire campaign of BJP-NDA during the 2014 general elections was hinged on the fact that UPA had indulged in corruption. A clean chit from the CBI court is against the argument," the NDA leader cited above said.
Senior NDA leaders also said the ruling coalition may have to rethink its strategy for next year’s electoral battles between the Congress and the BJP in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, given that the anti-corruption plank may not carry much weight.
Political analysts said the verdict is a shot in the arm for both DMK and Singh, as well as the Congress.
“The one thing that today’s verdict has done is brought the DMK back into the political equation. The DMK is going to play a strong card in Tamil Nadu politics," said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
“The timing of the verdict too is very significant. It comes just after Gujarat elections and soon before Karnataka elections. Congress will need strong regional allies and performance in states for its revival. In short, the verdict has given political fillip to DMK and Manmohan Singh-led UPA," she added.
PTI contributed to this story.