The recent book by former CAG Vinod Rai has raised enormous interest, and sparked debate, even before it was released. At first sight, it does not appear to have anything new to say—merely reconfirming much or all one has heard from various quarters, including CAG reports, court proceedings, and newspaper ‘investigations’. Rai’s book is authentic and credible confirmation of all of these things that we surmised or became aware of, but does the story end here? Clearly, the book raises new questions, after conclusively answering all the previous ones.
One has followed each saga relating to CWG, Coalgate and 2G, as they unfolded over the past years. This book brings out, at least implicitly, the thesis that all these were not unconnected rogue episodes—there was a common thread connecting these; all roads led to Rome—the Prime Minister was in the loop in all of these. There was a clear pattern of studied silence, quiet acquiescence with full knowledge and refusal to take responsibility. The question has now come as to what his role was. Was he a post office, a spectator, a confidant —or was he implicitly or explicitly part of each of these massive scams, even if he personally may have been free of direct taint? After all, in the 2G scam, licences formally issued by a sovereign government after process were correctly overturned wholesale as illegal by the apex court. How much more disgrace can a country suffer in the international arena? While the legal cases may go on in the court, with good or poor investigation as the case may be, is it sufficient to say that the matter is in court, and nothing more needs to be done? Shouldn’t direct political responsibility be fixed? Is it enough to say that the party has suffered in the elections and this is sufficient punishment? If indeed Congress had won the elections, would the sins have been washed off? Can the Prime Minister say nothing except that he did his ‘duty’?
In the 2G case, there was the Joint Parliamentary Committee, which whitewashed all other acts, except by A Raja. It is the first principle of investigation, and a cardinal element of the CrPC that the persons who know most about an event need to be interrogated, and their versions obtained. In 2G, the persons who knew most were Raja, P Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh. It is elementary logic that the two last named had to be examined, and their detailed versions brought on record. It is a travesty of the inquiry process that this was not done; this is inexcusable—and a blot on our Parliament. After all, a JPC is the highest investigative forum in the land. What example are we setting to our CBI and state CIDs? What message are we conveying to our thanas—they can do shoddy investigation, need not take the evidence of the prime witnesses?
More questions arise from Rai’s book. For example, an Empowered Cabinet Committee earlier had powers to fix ‘pricing’ for spectrum allocations. Out of the blue, the revised GoM mandate in early 2007 had acceded to this demand—the rest is infamous history. It is a mystery how the change took place—did the PM consciously order the change, or did it happen through a hidden hand? Surely, authentic records must be available in the Cabinet Secretariat, which keeps these papers. Shouldn’t there be clarity—an enquiry—how this happened?
Hitherto we have been following Air India purchases, CWG, 2G, Coalgate, Westland and a host of other sordid episodes as isolated stories. Rai has now opened up the avenue for examination whether there was a common thread in all of these. Was coalition dharma sufficient explanation? This does not explain inaction or complicity or support for misdemeanours in CWG or Coalgate, where the actors were from the ruling party. Is it just that the PM was, like Dhrithrashtra, blind to everything that was going on around him—remember that Sanjaya had brought every detail to notice? Or was the then PM following the Sun Tzu policy of permitting the satrap to do whatever he wanted, however illegal, so long as he showed total loyalty. Or, was Manmohan just a puppet—then who was pulling the strings? Shouldn’t that person be identified, and the nation be given the knowledge of how such great tragedies occurred? Or, was the then PM so beholden just to be allowed to keep his chair, at whatever cost? He has clarified that he did his “duty”—was this the dharma that Lord Krishna would have approved?
The individuals, players in the sad national drama of the past decade, are not important. The nation has paid a heavy price. The people who brought the country to its knees need to be identified and brought up before the whole country. How this is to be done—fairly, and without witch-hunt—in a credible manner is to be settled by the new government. Would not another JPC, supported by an SIT with a comprehensive mandate, be charged with the responsibility of going through the five or six connected scams, and bring out a credible report to expose those who brought shame to the country?
Subramanian is a former Cabinet Secretary