Knowing the delightfully imaginative way in which most Congressmen interpret everything, I won’t be a bit surprised if they believe that the Supreme Court was referring to Anil Ambani's father-in-law when it stated that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) is no “munimji”.
The court, responding to a public interest litigation that questioned the CAG’s remit to give ‘gyaan’ to the government, quoted the constitutional scriptures stating that not only was the CAG well within its right to examine government decisions, but that this was its bloody job. Whether the CAG’s report card is exaggerated, wrong, plagiarised, a little too purple in its prose or correct is something that Parliament is supposed to decide through debate. Such a humbug, the Supreme Court.
Over some time now, the Congress, like all ruling parties that grow obese without the existence of any real opposition, has re-arranged and refurbished statutory furniture and furnishings according to its own moral tastes. Like the government’s relationship with the CBI earlier, no one even bothers to get rattled any more by the removal of the fig leaf that used to cover the Centre’s ‘policy’ of distribution of funds and financial packages to states not ruled by, or friendly to, the ruling party at the Centre. Pay-per-view has become an acceptable norm for Centre-state relations. But it took a Supreme Court uttering to remind us all that it’s not perfectly tickety-boo for a constitutional body to be told to get back under its rock and stop clicking its claws at the government.
Last fortnight, the Supreme Court had stated, in response to a presidential reference that had asked whether its earlier judgement on 2G spectrum allocation made it mandatory for the government to allocate all natural resources only through auction, that auction was not mandatory and was one possible way of allocation. “When such a policy decision is not backed by a social or welfare purpose, and precious and scarce natural resources are alienated for commercial pursuits of profit maximising private entrepreneurs, adoption of means other than those that are competitive and maximise revenue may be arbitrary and face the wrath of Article 14 [right to equality] of the Constitution,” the court had added.
Which automatically led Union law minister Salman Khurshid to say with Ganesh Chaturthi-like jubilation, “Today, it is clear that what we did [on 2G allocation] was right. Therefore, it is a relief...it is comforting.” How some folks in government playing their parts to skim off public money can be conflated with a government policy that had crooks do the old in-out is remarkable. The last person I know who mistook an observation to be a clean chit of such proportions was the 15th century German Dominican priest Johann Tetzel who took the Catholic Church’s belief in granting pardons, or ‘indulgences’ after the sinner had confessed and received absolution to mean that there was nothing wrong in the practice of selling indulgences for money.
The UPA’s avoidance of taking the auction route in 2G spectrum and coal allocations may be something the CAG has been unnecessarily critical of. But the real issue brought forth by the CAG is the possible thievery committed by fixing allottees and providing ‘discount sales’. The ‘auction or not’ debate is as separate from the ‘allocations for sale’ issue as the ‘Is the T20 format good for cricket?’ debate is from cricket match-fixing.
Keeping the CAG inside a padded room isn’t something that the prime minister and the Congress president proactively seek. Neither does this strategy make the party look good nor does it help the government. Manmohan Singh was well within his right to question some of the CAG’s findings on the UPA’s coal allocations and term them as “disputable” and a product of the “selective reading” of a 2006 law ministry opinion. An accused government must defend itself. But Singh’s defence is of a different weave from what party flunkeydelics such as Khurshid and Digvijaya Singh have been charkha-ing out as they accuse the CAG of poking its nose in executive affairs or stating outright that CAG chief Vinod Rai is “harbouring political ambitions”.
In Subodh Mukherjee’s 1955 film Munimji, the final scene unravels the complicated plot. The bad guy, it turns out, isn’t the chap disguised as the munimji (Dev Anand) who is thought to be ‘Daku Kaale Ghoda’ who has embezzled the household of R50,000. The real villain (Pran) is from within the household who, upon being exposed, goes on a shooting spree before being gunned down by his own mother (pre-empting the more famous filicide in Mother India two years later).
While a point-by-point counter to the CAG’s charges against the government is welcome, Congressmen who have forgotten what it is to have people exist who may not believe every word they say would do well to watch Munimji. For within the melodrama lie clues that may solve a continuing tragedy.