Supreme Court criticism puts PM in a spot

Supreme Court criticism puts PM in a spot

New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s criticism of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his inaction over a request for sanction to prosecute former telecom minister A. Raja has helped rally opposition parties and could be the spark for a political campaign against the Congress party-led government.

As the government expressed its unhappiness over the apex court’s remarks, opposition parties on Wednesday demanded that the Prime Minister explain the delay. Raja resigned on Sunday after allegations of corruption in the 2008 allocation of spectrum for 2G, or second-generation, wireless telephone services.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court questioned Singh’s inaction over a letter written to him by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy in which he sought sanction to have Raja indicted over corruption charges: the Prime Minister responded after 16 months without taking a stand.

Taking up the issue of Singh’s alleged “inaction and silence", a bench comprising justices G.S. Singhvi and Ashok Kumar Ganguly said it was “troubling".

Political analysts say the court’s comments had raised questions over the otherwise clean image of Singh and his governance record.

“The Prime Minister cannot wash his hands of as there is collective responsibility for the cabinet. So it’s an indictment of his governance rather on a question of honesty," said Subrata Mukherjee, a professor in the department of political science at Delhi University.

Mukherjee also said it would be appropriate for Singh to offer an explanation why action was delayed given the sum involved. The Comptroller and Auditor General has found irregularities in the allotment of 2G spectrum caused a notional loss of up to 1.76 trillion to the exchequer.

Senior Congress leader Vayalar Ravi, minister of overseas Indian affairs, described the court’s remarks as “unfortunate", saying the apex court had not considered the compulsions of a coalition government.

Former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee agreed, cautioning against any conflict between the legislature, executive and judiciary.

“There has to be harmony in the functioning of the executive, judiciary and legislature, and each body should respect each other," Chatterjee said. “After all the Prime Minister is the head of this country, with impeccable credentials. If the Prime Minister is guilty, the court should say that, but after proper inquiry."

Solicitor general of India Gopal Subramanium is expected to explain Singh’s position in the Supreme Court on Thursday as to why he had not acted earlier on the complaint against Raja.

Opposition parties, which have been stalling the proceedings of Parliament since the winter session began on 9 November, demanding a joint parliamentary committee probe into a series of corruption charges, said the court’s comments had vindicated their stance.

“I don’t recall any such remarks against the Prime Minister’s Office in the last 60 years. The Prime Minister should reply to it," senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani said.

While some Congress leaders termed the apex court’s remarks as yet another case of “judicial activism", the Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat said it was not a case of “judiciary versus executive".

“The court’s observations came in a different context. The Supreme Court had earlier limited the time for responding to a request of prosecution to three months," Karat said. “The government had been trying to protect some leaders and bureaucrats."

A friendly ally of the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, found no fault with the Supreme Court’s observation. The remarks amounted to an “observation and not a judgement. We find nothing wrong in it", party general secretary Mohan Singh said.

Appu Esthose Suresh contributed to this story.