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Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times
January 16, 2011
Union telecom minister Kapil Sibal has needlessly damaged his own image by making avoidable comments against the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report on the 2G spectrum scam that led to the resignation of his colleague A Raja. By stating that there was no scam and debunking the figure the CAG had put out, Sibal exposed himself to scathing criticism even from his admirers. The 2G controversy has shaken the foundations of the UPA and when Sibal lashed out at the CAG report in an attempt to dilute its impact, he hurt his own credibility. Sibal is credited as being a thinking and pragmatic human resource development minister (his other avatar) and the work he has done in that ministry till now has earned him accolades from various quarters.

But in his over eagerness to help the Congress, the minister may have done incalculable damage to himself. There are some politicians who feel that he did this because he wanted to bail out his good friend, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit. It is being speculated that Dikshit may soon come under a renewed attack after the CAG gives its report on the role of her government during the Commonwealth Games.

Sibal’s attack is being seen by some as an attempt to debunk the CAG institution so that when the auditor comes out with an adverse report on scandals related to the Games, the impact would be less severe.

Whether this is the reason or not for his improper observations — first made during a meeting he had with Delhi MLAs about a fortnight ago and at a press conference in Shastri Bhawan more than a week ago — is something only Sibal can explain.

But for a minister to rubbish the audit department when its report has been placed before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) could invite the breach of privilege motion. Sibal is also an eminent lawyer and he should have known that the investigations into the 2G spectrum scam are being monitored by the Supreme Court and there was no express need to come to such conclusions before the completion of the probe.

Another reason that may have prompted him to commit this ‘elementary mistake’ could be his desire to divert attention of the Opposition from the new Bofors controversy in the wake of the income-tax tribunal report.

Sibal’s remarks also came under criticism because the prime minister, during the All India Congress Committee session at Burari last month, had volunteered to appear before the PAC to clear all the misgivings about the 2G scam.

The common man’s interpretation is that the minister was trying to overrule his boss. The minister has been slammed both by the CAG and by PAC chairman Murli Manohar Joshi.

Joshi is himself fighting a battle within his own party because he is continuing with his work as the PAC chairman even though the saffron brigade has been demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe. Joshi termed Sibal’s remarks as ‘improper’ and said that he should have read the report before making a comment. The Congress has put up a feeble defence for Sibal and has tried to deflect the criticism by wanting to know how the CAG report was leaked in the first place.

Sibal should, in fact, use the opportunity to review the entire telecom policy since 1993 and make the licensing procedure transparent. If need be, all previous licences should be cancelled to have a fresh, competitive and open bidding process.

Sibal must learn from this episode because a large number of people have great expectations from him. He is seen as one of the few persons of unimpeachable integrity in this government and his party. If he becomes a political casualty, it will be a loss to the nation. Between us.