Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A season of silly politics….

The 2G scam has been back in the limelight over the last few days for an absolutely silly reason. Apparently, if Chidambaram had wanted to stop Raja from giving away free spectrum, he could have. Maybe, he could have. Maybe not Chidambaram himself, but the Cabinet could surely have. Any sensible government would concede this point. Policy decisions are taken by the Cabinet and not by any single minister alone. The first silly episode in this political season saw the Congress/UPA acting coy about its decision to give away spectrum free, rather than claiming credit for this absolutely perfect strategy (I covered this partly in my post titled Of course Chidambaram is guilty. But of what???? on 22nd September). The second silly episode of this political season is what is happening now – when the opposition is intentionally mixing a scam-free policy decision to give spectrum free with the possible scam of allocating spectrum out of turn. Giving spectrum free is a policy decision; the same rules apply to all players. But favoring a few players is a scam. The two are totally different matters and the entire country is being intentionally misled on this matter.

So let’s get the facts right first.

There are two different things that everyone is now starting to accept. The first is that giving spectrum free is a policy decision. And just like all policy decisions, this one also was taken by the cabinet. As always, the proposal must have been brought forward by Raja as the minister in charge of Telecom, but the entire cabinet saw the proposal, discussed it and cleared it. The cabinet must obviously have been influenced by the recommendation of the TRAI that clearly was against auctioning 2G spectrum. In the same way, the Cabinet clears every diesel, LPG and kerosene price hike whenver it is taken. These items are subsidized and the government bears a huge burden of subsidy on account of these items. Obviously, the decision on pricing of these products is not taken exclusively by the Ministry of Petroleum – but by the entire cabinet. It has huge financial implications and hence the Finance Minister – whose job it is to manage the fiscal deficit – is a key participant in the discussion in the cabinet. It also has huge political ramifications and hence every single cabinet minister becomes a participant in the decision. Like always, such big policy decisions are taken by the cabinet. That’s why I am a little confused here – is the Congress saying that the policy of allocating spectrum free was taken by Raja alone? If so, then it is being really silly. It was obviously a cabinet decision. It was a cabinet decision during the NDA rule. It was a cabinet decision during the UPA-1 rule. And it was a cabinet decision during UPA-2 rule. The opposition may disagree with the merits of this policy decision, but it is a policy decision nonetheless and there is no scam in the policy decision.

Once the cabinet takes a decision, it is then the nodal ministry that takes over the implementation of the policy. If the minister concerned decides to defraud the system and make money on the side, I doubt if he brings this proposal to the cabinet! This is out and out corruption, the benefits of which would accrue to the concerned minister and his party alone. This criminal liability is what Raja is being tried for.

If the charge now is that Chidambaram was part of the criminal conspiracy to extort money, it looks silly. Much as the DMK and Congress have been alliance partners for the last seven years or so (since 2004 when the first UPA was formed at the center), the politics of Tamil Nadu is such that no party trusts any other party. Prior to 2004, the DMK was safely ensconced in the arms of the NDA. In fact, between 1991 and 2004, the Congress had an alliance with the AIADMK at the state level and the DMK was a sworn enemy. In 1989, the Congress had gone alone in the state assembly elections (no alliances with either AIADMK or DMK). Prior to 1989, the Congress had had alliances with both AIADMK and DMK at the state level. If there is one thing that TN politics shows, it is that the parties have no long lasting alliances with anyone at the center. The DMK was part of the NDA when it was ruling at the center; now it is part of the UPA. Does anyone think that this type of political reality would lead to a secure bond or trust between the two parties? A bond so strong that they would conspire together? Does anyone think that Chidambaram and Raja were “best buddies”? Anyone with even an iota of political sense would understand that in spite of their alliance, the DMK and Congress (or for that matter any party) remain mutually suspicious of each other. Conspiring together is out of the question.

Some would argue that even if this were true (that the two wouldn’t conspire together), why should anyone in the Congress object to at least probing Chidambaram. My view is that probing a senior minister without any logical reasoning leads to a virtual shut-down of that ministry. At a time of heightened security threats, do we want to shut down the home ministry till a probe goes on – a probe based entirely on a blatantly political accusation? The only reason being offered for a probe is that Chidambaram could have stopped Raja. Firstly, it wasn’t for Chidambaram to stop Raja. It was for the cabinet to do so. (It was an NDA policy to have the Finance Minister and Telecom Minister decide on such matters without referring the same to the cabinet; not a UPA decision. In the UPA, such decisions are taken by the cabinet). And the cabinet didn’t want to do so. It wanted to give spectrum free. If this is the only basis to try Chidambaram, why not try the Petroleum Minister for subsidized petroleum products; the Foods Ministry for subsidized grains to the poor; the Industries minister for subsidized tax rates in the SEZs; the Education Minister for subsidized education and the Health ministry for subsidized hospitals. If giving spectrum free is deemed to be a crime, then why only Chidambaram – the entire cabinet should be put in jail!

This is why I am wary of the Anna proposal to include the PM unconditionally under the Lokpal. Something as flimsy as someone’s imagination of the meaning of a letter or memo could become the grounds to put a PM under scrutiny. As soon as one such episode would end, another one would be initiated. After all, people who see conspiracies everywhere would want an investigation for every alleged conspiracy. This is why my own view on including the PM under the Lokpal has been that the PM should be included but only after a preliminary inquiry has been conducted by an independent authority (not the Lokpal) to establish a prima-facie charge. If this were not done, the PM (any PM) would never be able to perform.

The real truth is that politics has always been silly; and yet this must be a high point of silliness. To intentionally obfuscate the difference between a policy decision and an implementation programme is being silly. Or being too clever by half. And has anyone wondered why it is Subramaniam Swamy who is fighting this battle and the BJP is merely enjoying a free ride? That’s because the BJP itself had gone with a free spectrum policy during its rule. With what face can it challenge the free-spectrum policy the UPA followed?

No comments:

Post a Comment