Friday, August 24, 2012

Bizarre BJP/NDA arguments on Coalgate on TV….

Last night, the most bizarre arguments were presented by BJP/Akali Dal politicians on TV. The anchor was ill informed or motivated to let them off easy. The Congress minister was caught by surprise by some new facts presented to him by the SAD politician and was unable to give convincing rebuttals. In the courts, both sides are given advance information of the arguments that are going to be presented. But in the wild world of TV news channels, spokespeople are often subjected to last-minute data points. Not knowing answers is construed as culpability! But in the interest of better information flow, it is important that someone rebuts these false arguments.

One of the most bizarre argument I’ve hard in recent times was presented by Ravi Shankar Prasad in a TV interview (not panel discussion). Here’s how it went: Till 2004, only 39 coal blocks were allotted. And then in 3 years, some 142 coal blocks were given away. This is the real scam. This shows that the government was trying to rush through the corruption before the auctions kicked in. I mentioned yesterday that if we took the line that a new and better policy implied that all past dealings were corrupt, then there is an inherent disincentive for politicians to reform and make improvements. But if one takes Ravi Shankar Prasad’s line of argument, then there is an inherent disincentive even for politicians even to accelerate economic growth. Everyone knows that the NDA government messed up the economy (average GDP growth rate in NDA rule was lesser than in the six years preceding it and during UPA-1) and in 2004 when the UPA took over, it tried to hasten the pace of economic reforms. This urge to reform is what led to the thought of auctioning coal blocks. And as part of the push forward, the government hastened the allocation of coal blocks. The big push was on power generation and other infrastructure sectors like steel and cement. That’s why more coal blocks got allotted after 2004. Ravi Shankar Prasad is an intelligent man, but he was speaking the wrong thing when he put forward this argument.

Then on TV, Naresh Gujral from the Shiromani Akali Dal put furnished some “new” information of share prices of some companies and alleged that the share prices of those companies that got coal blocks increased some 5 times to 45 times soon after. His allegation was that “wealth” got generated even though mining did not take place….and hinted that promoters raked in the moolah (he was rebutting Chidambaram’s point that since no coal had been mined, there was no loss). Now frankly, I was surprised by this data, because my own work had indicated otherwise. So I re-looked all the data again. I looked at data from 2004 January till now. I looked at the share prices of Hindalco (AB Group), NTPC (state owned), Adani Power, Tata Steel, NALCO (state owned) and Sterlite – some of the companies named by the CAG. Here’s how it looks. Even if one adds up the total market capitalization of all the private companies named, it only adds up to Rs 1 lac crores or so. And mind you, these are pre-operating companies –  many for several decades – with pre-existing market capitalizations. The delta (change) if any was small. Secondly, there was no visible increase in share prices around the period of coal block allocations. Whatever movement was observed was routine – nothing that one didn’t see in other companies not affected by coal scam. So was Naresh Gujral giving completely wrong facts?

Then Sidhant Singh of the BJP – grinning in a “gotcha” manner – said: Imagine if someone gives you a free plot of land. Trust me, the share prices of the company will shoot up! Now what he said is no rocket science. It’s obvious. Again he is an intelligent person. So I have to assume that his objective was to fool the audiences. Because he failed to mention that unlike a company getting a free plot of land, in the case of coal blocks, the acquiring company had taken on the onerous responsibility of supplying power to the State Electricity Boards at the cheapest possible rates! The free allocation came with a future burden. That explains why the stock prices didn’t skyrocket. But Sidhant Singh could not let such a juicy opening go!

All along, the other guest Vinod Mehta kept urging the BJP and SAD with: these are strong points. You have a good case. Debate in Parliament. But why is the BJP unwilling to debate in Parliament? Because it knows that its TV arguments are flawed. It knows that it is more guilty in this so called scam than the Congress. It was their state governments which “urged” or “lobbied” with the Center to continue with allotments rather than go for auctions. The BJP’s argument that the ultimate call was the Centers is flawed because when it came to NCTC (National Counter Terrorism Center), the BJP – on grounds of federalism – screamed that the Center was not doing what the states were saying. How convenient is this! I was always sure that the BJP’s story of federalism was just another ploy to stall the government’s working is now conclusively proven.

I would love to see a debate in Parliament like the one that happened on Lokpal. That was a fascinating debate in which Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj put forward their points and Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi rebutted them. It’s a different matter that after giving their assurance to Anna on including Lok Ayuktas within the Lokpal Bill, the BJP went back on its word. But at least they got exposed. Maybe that’s what the BJP is really worried about. What if they got exposed again!

In the meanwhile, the SC has let Chidambaram off completely cleanly in the 2G case.It has also said the PMO was not involved in Raja’s shenanigans. I have a feeling the 2G case is not going the way the BJP hoped. Worse, the SC may rule quite soon on it, ending the matter once and for all. If the Congress comes out relatively unscathed, the BJP will have no option but to rely on Coalgate. That’s why it wants to keep pushing it. But with more and more media outlets panning the report, it’s a matter of time before the truth comes out on Coalgate also.

The real truth is that the BJP wants to avoid discussions in Parliament, where it won’t be allowed to say lies. On TV, its like the wild west. Gullible and politically motivated anchors allow panelists to spread lies. Its shocking the way TV channels are allowing themselves to be abused and misused in this manner. But then this is the face of liberal media in this country!

No comments:

Post a Comment