Former telecom minister and DMK leader A Raja was arrested on Wednesday even as the scam-hit Manmohan Singh government hoped this tangible action against corruption would help restore its credibility, dilute the opposition’s onslaught and help it break the stalemate in Parliament.
Soon after, the DMK seemed set to suspend him.
The CBI held Raja and two of his close associates, retired IAS officer Siddhartha Behura, who was telecom secretary in 2008, and Raja’s personal secretary, RK Chandolia, for allegedly manipulating procedures while allocating the second-generation telecom spectrum licences in 2007-08.
All three had been called to the CBI headquarters in the morning and will spend the night in a CBI lock-up.
Raja, (47), the Dalit face of the DMK and a five- time member of the Lok Sabha, was forced to resign on November 14, 2010 after details of a CAG report — stating that the spectrum allocation led to a R1.76 lakh crore notional loss to the exchequer — became public.
His arrest came two days after his mentor and DMK chief M Karunanidhi held discussions with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on strengthening ties for the Tamil Nadu assembly elections.
For the DMK, it was a toss-up between the impact of inaction against corruption and Raja’s vote-bank.
For the Congress, the action was imperative to substantiate its claim that it was serious about tackling corruption. But the Congress dismissed suggestions that the arrest would affect the credibility of the PM or raise questions about the collective responsibility of the Cabinet and the accountability of the PM for not acting earlier against Raja.
The 2G scam paralysed the entire winter session over the opposition's demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe. The issue may trouble the forthcoming budget session too. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has convened an all-party meeting on February 8 to resolve the stalemate.
Although the uneasy UPA government, also hit by the Adarsh society and Commonwealth Games scams, hoped the arrest would help it restore its credibility, the opposition termed it “too little, too late”. Sources said unlike the Congress, which has shown its intent by acting against Raja, former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan and Suresh Kalmadi, the BJP is yet to punish anyone for the land scandal in Karnataka.
The sources also recalled the Tehelka expose on corruption in defence contracts in 2001 where no action was taken against former defence minister George Fernandes.
CBI sources said the decision to arrest Raja was taken after the agency unearthed details of some financial transactions of Raja between October 2007, when the licensing process began, and January 2008, when the licences were issued.