The Supreme Court judgement in the 2G scam is an indictment of A Raja, not that of the then finance minister or the Prime Minister who, in Nehru's words, is the "lynchpin" of the government.
Nowhere in the 90-page order did the court invoke the principle of collective responsibility the Opposition has with such gusto used to put the government on the mat, especially P Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh. The judges' focus was on the role of Trai and Raja's "arbitrary and capricious" leadership of the telecom ministry, favouring certain companies at the cost of the public exchequer.
The court's stance in the spectrum allocation case was no different from its earlier verdict blaming the PMO and insulating the PM from the delay in deciding Subramaniam Swamy's private plea for sanction to prosecute Raja.
It confounded conventional wisdom largely because collective responsibility is at the core of the cabinet system in which the cabinet is responsible not merely for its own decisions but also those of individual ministers.
Are the judgements indicting Trai and Raja and upbraiding the PMO an expression of the court's sensitivity to the compulsions of coalition politics? Is it recognition of the fact that the buck doesn't necessarily stop at the desk of the PM heading a coalition government?
Several senior counsels privately agreed the PM's personal integrity and limitations built into multi-party regimes could have played on the court's mind. Those who spoke on record put it differently.
"The gravity of Raja's wrongdoings deflected possibly the court's focus on the principle of collective responsibility," former attorney general Soli Sorabjee told Hindustan Times. For his part, SC lawyer Dushyant Dave refused to speculate on reasons. He felt the court "missed the opportunity of fixing responsibility on the cabinet on the collective responsibility principle that governs parliamentary democracy."
Senior advocate KTS Tulsi argued the SC was fully aware of the principle of collective responsibility. "Yet in the case of delay (of sanction) and grant of licences, it has placed the responsibility on specific institutions and individuals, leaving no scope for anyone to blame the PM and the home minister (who was finance minister when licences the court has cancelled were granted)."
Could the court's lenient view of Singh and Chidambaram have been guided by infirmities inherent to mixed regimes? To that, Tulsi said: "Judges don't go into politics. They are guided by the legality of the material before them."
What applies to the apex court applies as much to the special CBI judge who'd pronounce on Saturday his verdict on Swamy's plea to make Chidambaram a co-accused with Raja in the 2G case on the basis of the material before him.