Congress may be forced to seek Raja’s dismissal

Congress may be forced to seek Raja’s dismissal

New Delhi: The ruling Congress party appears determined that telecom minister A. Raja, accused of corruption in the allotment of second-generation (2G) mobile spectrum, be made to quit, although it’s reluctant to damage ties with alliance partner Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

But with the Opposition in a combative mood in Parliament, the options for the Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), are limited. The DMK is a UPA constituent.

With pressure mounting on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to sack Raja, the ruling party’s top leaders held discussions on the issue on Sunday. Raja, who has reiterated that he won’t quit as he did nothing wrong, met DMK leader and Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi in Chennai.

According to a senior Congress leader familiar with developments, the party leadership will “communicate the pressure on the government and the other consequences (of Raja’s continuance in the government)" to the DMK leadership. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was a part of the Congress core committee meeting that was also attended by Singh, party chief Sonia Gandhi and her political secretary Ahmed Patel, said the government will clarify its stand on the issue in Parliament.

“Parliament is in session. Whatever needs to be said on telecom minister A. Raja will be said in the Parliament," Mukherjee told reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit in New Delhi on Sunday. Singh is expected to make a statement in Parliament on Monday.

The government is also likely to table a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report that has reportedly indicted the minister for not distributing 2G spectrum in a transparent manner, this week. Both houses of Parliament have been witnessing chaotic scenes and abrupt adjournments without business being transacted since the winter session began on Tuesday. The principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has indicated that it will not let the houses run unless the Prime Minister sacks the telecom minister.

“Raja’s continuance in the government is becoming untenable as the Opposition as well as the Left parties are adamant on his exit," the Congress leader said. On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a petition filed by a non-governmental organization and former parliamentarian Subramanian Swamy to have a court-monitored investigation into the 2G spectrum allocation. Raja has been accused of causing a loss of Rs1.76 trillion by the allegedly fraudulent allocation.

Raja has said he was merely following the new telecom policy of 1999. He ruled out his resignation on Sunday as well.

But at least three Congress leaders said their party leadership will continue efforts to put pressure on the DMK leadership to shore up the UPA government, which has been hit by a series of corruption allegations, such as those related to the Commonwealth Games and the Adarsh housing society in Mumbai.

However, they added that the Congress leadership was not in favour of breaking the alliance with the DMK, which has 18 members in the Lok Sabha, and considering Tamil Nadu opposition All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader J. Jayalalithaa’s offer to support the UPA government.

“We cannot drop an ally and take another one in place ofit. We will end up with no one with us," a senior Congress minister said on condition of anonymity.

When Parliament opens on Monday, the Opposition campaign may be stepped up as former telecom secretary D.S. Mathur has alleged that the minister had resisted a public auction of spectrum.

The telecom ministry on Sunday said only 12.6 MHz of additional spectrum was given to the existing operators by Raja, but his move to seek additional revenue from them was challenged by the leading service providers. Releasing a document, the ministry said Raja’s three predecessors—Dayanidhi Maran, Arun Shourie and the late Pramod Mahajan—distributed 65.2 MHz without any upfront charge and without auctioning spectrum.

PTI contributed to this story.