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2G taint: UPA crisis not over

2G taint: UPA crisis not over

Author: B S Arun
Publication: Deccan Herald
Date: October 9, 2011
URL: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/196562/2g-taint-upa-crisis-not.html

What transpires in the Supreme Court during the week starting October 10 is critical for a battered UPA government and a beleaguered Congress party in general, and under-stress Home Minister P Chidambaram in particular.

For, the apex court will be dealing with the application of former minister Subramanian Swamy seeking a CBI probe into the role of the minister in the taint-ridden 2G spectrum allocation saga.

Events during the week may have a catastrophic effect on the UPA government and Congress party. If the highest court in the country upholds Swamy's application, it would not only see the ouster of Chidambaram from the Union cabinet but also bring the probe to the door step of prime minister Manmohan Singh and the prime minister's office (PMO). If the application is dismissed, Chidambaram will be relieved. If the apex court sends the application to the trial court, it may be seen as temporary relief but the case will go on.

The demand for a probe against the home minister comes at a time when the CBI is all set to register an FIR - most likely within the next few weeks - against former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran of DMK in the 2G case.

The role of ex- finance minister has been brought to a climax, thanks to an unlikely source: reply to a RTI query. The response, consisting an "Office Memorandum" -an 11-page chronology of events sent from the finance ministry to PMO on March 25, 2011 - all but suggests that Chidambaram-led finance ministry could have halted the scam if he had insisted that spectrum allocation should be through auction, rather than `first come first served' basis, which now-jailed telecom minister A Raja followed.

The "OM" has laid bare several proposals/measures/decisions of different ministries vis-à-vis 2G scam, some hitherto unavailable to public - that the finance ministry was all through in favour of auction and opposed to first-come-first-served policy; that a scheduled meeting of all related departments on January 9, 2008 was mysteriously cancelled; a day later Raja overruled finance ministry objections and gave away Letters of Intent to 122 firms in hours and DoT netted Rs 1,658 crore(compared to Rs 1,02,497 crore earned in 3G auctions just three years later!); that Chidambaram's ministry did not question Raja's action; instead Chidambaram wrote a 'secret letter' to the PM on January 15, 2008 saying that spectrum allocation be treated as a `closed chapter'; that he and Raja held meetings and the PM joined them for a meeting on July 4, 2008 on 2G.

The 'OM' from the finance ministry - now headed by Congress veteran and UPA trouble shooter Pranab Mukherjee - was sent just over a month after Raja was arrested. It was also at a time when the Union government was in the thick of an attack unleashed by the Opposition in Parliament. Thus,the 'OM', whose very first page of the total 11 pages says that the "OM was seen by the FM", implying that Mukherjee was aware of the contents, has raised several questions.

The explosive document - obtained by BJP legal cell's Vivek Garg and presented before SC by Swamy - did the expected. It created a storm from which the UPA and its lead partner Congress are struggling to come out unscathed. The note sent by Mukherjee's ministry and "seen" by him, has not just created a rift between two senior most ministers of UPA and put the PM on the back foot, it also threatens to destabilise the government. The Congress was not bargaining for this tornado, after the government faced a series of scams and misfires on issues such as demand for separate statehood for Telangana, Anna Hazare fast and Baba Ramdev fiasco, besides exposing a lack of foresight and decision-making in the absence of unwell party chief Sonia Gandhi.

Was the 18-point note, which at many stages seems to target Chidambaram, an attempt to `fix' the former FM? How could Mukherjee - later in a patch-up exercise - distance himself from the document which says he has `seen' it? If Mukherjee is right, whom is he blaming for drawing inferences and what action has been taken against the culprit? Was not the document, which contained inter-ministerial inputs, routed through senior officials? What did Chidambaram mean when he said `he accepted Mukherjee's statement.

According to former cabinet secretary T S R Subramaniam, "It is a serious note prepared by senior-most bureaucrats over an 11-day period andseen by the finance minister."

Authority deficit

The entire episode also exposes the prime minister's authority deficit. Except for meeting Mukherjee in New York and Chidambaram in New Delhi, he did nothing to douse the fire. It was left to a recuperating Sonia Gandhi to broker a truce between the two warring ministers.

Thanks to the 'OM', perhaps for the first time in his career Chidambaram - who is also facing a court case challenging his election - is bracing against a question mark over his future. He may not be left with many friends in the party but he has the backing of Sonia and PM. Importantly, he is seen as the last barrier before the PM. Mukherjee, an all-weather politician, has not endeared himself to PM or Sonia through this episode. Notwithstanding the outcome of the 2G court case, his carefully cultivated image has taken a big hit.

Some legal luminaries say the home minister cannot be accused of criminal culpability through the 'OM'. The CBI has strongly defended him. There is nothing to establish collusion between him and Raja. Was his merely a case of a negligent policy maker?
While the document has left UPA emotionally exhausted, the BJP is relentless in its onslaught. Will the UPA withstand the offensive in the coming weeks? Next week's court decision may hold the answer.

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