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The UPA's Samson?

The arrest of former telecom minister A Raja and former Union telecom secretary Siddharth Behura in the 2G spectrum scam may have made the government's position even more vulnerable. Pankaj Vohra writes.

columns Updated: Mar 03, 2011 12:24 IST
Pankaj Vohra

The arrest of former telecom minister A Raja and former Union telecom secretary Siddharth Behura in the 2G spectrum scam may have made the government's position even more vulnerable. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducting the probe has concluded that the spectrum allocation had caused a loss to the national exchequer. Though the figure given by the CBI is different from the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG) one, it contests the claim made by current telecom minister Kapil Sibal that there had been no loss to the government and that the CAG report was full of anomalies.

On Friday, Sibal tried to shift the blame on to the NDA government while stating that the findings of the Justice Shivraj Patil committee will also be handed over to the CBI. Several questions have arisen since the controversy broke out. The foremost being: if the NDA's policies and practices were wrong, why did the UPA follow them and not take corrective measures? Second, in the 90s when the cellular licences were given, there had been no auction and many people became rich overnight. Does it not call for the review of the entire telecom policy since its inception?

The logic that key UPA ally and DMK supremo M Karunanidhi is now using is that Raja has been arrested simply for making telephony available to the masses. His oblique reference is to the time when outgoing and incoming calls were priced as high as R20 a minute. But in the last few years, the cellphone reached

800 million people at affordable rates. Karunanidhi is portraying Raja as a hero of the masses who had to suffer because he is a Dalit. This picture is in contrast with the one presented by the central government that's trying to send out a message that by arresting the former minister, the UPA is enforcing its agenda of zero tolerance for corruption.

Raja is likely to make the Cabinet's approval of his policy his main defence. If this happens, the central leaders will come off looking bad. If there was corruption and the government leaders in Delhi weren't aware of it, it's a poor reflection on their governance skills. If they were aware but decided to look the other way due to coalition compulsions, it is complicity.

This makes them liable to face the same charge as Raja. In any case, it speaks volumes about the overall inefficiency of the government whose credibility is at its lowest ebb.

Another dimension about the arrest episode is that it has handed over a great advantage to Raja who can, if he wants, put several top central leaders in the dock. On his release on bail or on the plea of attending Parliament after special permission from the court during the budget session, he can exercise his prerogative as a former minister who resigned to give his explanation on the floor of Parliament.

And during his explanation, if he chooses to mention a few names of those who 'influenced' his decisions, the whole government may plunge into another crisis. As it is, there are not many people who believe that Raja was working alone. In such a scenario even a half-truth can hurt.

With so many scams being unearthed virtually on a daily basis, the government's view has few takers. Raja is the first ex-minister to be arrested by his own government. But it certainly seems that he's not going to be the last.

An old Urdu couplet by Akbar Allahabadi sums up the situation: "Barbaad gulistaan karne ko ek hi ullu kaafi hai, har shakh pe ullu baithe hai, anjaame gulistaan kya hoga." (One owl is enough to destroy a garden. Imagine the fate of the garden if there's an owl sitting on every branch of every tree in the garden.) The government must dispel this impression.

Between us.