Friday, September 7, 2012

Mostly din; very little substance in Coalgate

A whole Parliamentary session has been wasted on the back of a lot of lies and half truths spoken by the BJP. The BJP has succeeded in creating a lot of din on Coalgate, but there is very little substance in what has come out so far. One understands the compulsions of politics, but there is also something called national interest that the BJP must remind itself of….

Lets look at the din first. The CAG’s main observation should have been one of “efficiency”, not “loss”. The government could well have decided not to change the policy of allocation through the screening committees. It had the support of the BJP and the Left on this. Its “mistake” was that the PM thought of changing it to a more transparent auction process. It took nearly 8 years to do so. If the CAG commented that this was too long, it would be a valid efficiency observation. The PAC and Parliament would have thought of ways to speeden up legislation-making processes. No one would have got hurt and the country would have benefited. But the CAG (the individual, not the institution) is a political animal. He decided to put a figure of Rs 1.86 lac crores to this inefficiency. He forgot what “Time value of money” means in accounting. He knew he could count on the BJP to spin this number into a claim of corruption. When did inefficiency (for which all parties are responsible) spin to become corruption (blamed on the Congress and specifically the squeaky clean PM)? And how can the BJP answer the fact that it did not even think of auctions during its six years. How can it claim success for the amendments to the Electricity Act in 2003 and not take blame for failing to amend the associated coal auctions process? How does it answer the fact that all its states were opposed to auctions? How can it answer itself for the mess its state government in Karnataka has caused on another mineral – iron ore? How can it claim to be un-involved when its own party President has been involved in the allotment of a coal block to his friend? And lastly, how can it wash its hands off the recommendations its MP CM made in favor of one particular company….that too to divert coal towards another project?

Continuing with the din angle, Scam TV yesterday devoted a lot of time on prime time (I couldn’t watch it for too long….so I don’t know if it was the full show) on the PMO letter of 2005 which minuted the decision to continue with the screening committee. Firstly, I want to ask how this is a “scoop”? This fact has been known for very long. If only the anchor of Scam TV read Economic Times today, he would understand that all states were represented in this meeting whose minutes he claimed to be a scoop. And then the BJP latches on to this letter as “proof”. Proof of what? Proof that its own states opposed auctions? Proof that the Central government considered the views of the states and thus believed in the federal nature of our polity?

In all this din, the real facts have got drowned. I usually blame the government for not communicating well with the people. This time around, even that’s not true. But some parts of the media – especially Scam TV – has decided to play favorites. Kapil Sibal’s 8 questions to the BJP were not covered, but the BJP’s 7 counter questions were prominently shown on prime time. Political favoritism in media is apparent and is obviously dangerous for our democracy; yet it continues brazenly.

The real facts are as under. The PM thought of auctions. A good thought. The PM failed to get everyone on board (at least till Nov 2007 when states were still writing to the PMO against auctions). A sad reality of Indian politics. There were differences of opinions within the government. That’s always the case, nothing wrong with it. Coal mines were given to support the growth of power, steel and cement. That’s the right decision. Many mines have not started production yet. That’s obvious because we have so many clearances required. These mines will support power, steel and cement production through the 12th five year plan which has just started. If we had waited till now to auction the mines, the 12th plan would have gone bust (do the BJP and Scam TV’s anchor not realize this?). There was reverse auctions in power – hence the benefit of free coal went to the people, not to the power companies. The market prices of steel and cement are market determined. If the coal blocks were auctioned (as they will be in future), the end prices would have risen (they will rise in the future). Again, the public will pay. The BJP will gain and the public will pay. These are the facts. And they will not remain hidden. This time around, the SC cannot allow the cancellation of all licenses….the CJI has indicated that much by disagreeing with the “everything must be auctioned” logic his brother judges used in canceling 2G licenses.

The real fact also is that there has been some degree of nepotism in the allotments. Maybe some corruption as well. That is why 2 Congress MPs, one DMK MP, one BJP leader (its President) and one RJD MP are being investigated by the CBI. More names will come out soon. Big deal. Really….what’s so surprising in this revelation. I can bet that if the CBI were to investigate any government program, it will find between 1-10% corruption. It’s there in all governments – state and central. Its there with all parties – BJP prominently. It’s the grease that runs the political system. It’s the way parties fund themselves. What’s the big deal? In all the brouhaha around 2G, the only case of possible corruption presented by the CBI or the opposition only relate to one dubious loan transaction between DB Realty and Sun TV (a front for DMK?). Nothing else at all. And yet the licenses of clean players like MTS and Uninor were canceled. So far in coalgate, 4-5 politicians have been identified as beneficiaries; out of the hundreds of coal mines allotted. What are we talking about here?

The BJP will realize soon that all the din cannot give it political legitimacy. By blocking Parliament, it is apparent that it is chasing a political strategy. If Parliament doesn’t work, no bills are passed, and the sense of policy paralysis amplifies. The Congress is disallowed from launching its programs. And a few years later, more accusations can be made for the “delay in law making”. It’s a sham that will soon be out. The BJP will soon also realize that by obstructing a legally elected government from functioning, it is playing the role of a destructive opposition. At the very minimum, it can expect the same when (and if) it comes to power. At the worst, it will be punished by the people for this.

The Congress has to move away from the din and move to more substantial issues. Today’s papers talk of the government surrendering the fiscal deficit target of 5.1% and accepting a much higher reality. This is unacceptable. Chidambaram has to take corrective measures. Someone has to convince Mamata to allow diesel price hikes. Mamata cannot wield the veto on all issues. The Congress must understand that even if Mamata blocks a reform, it is the Congress that is blamed for blocking reforms. It has to be politically savvy and sew up stronger deals with other parties. This substantive action alone will drown out the din that the BJP is creating.

The real truth is that there is very little actual substance that the BJP has been able to present to the people. It’s beating the drums of corruption and creating the din to make something stick on the PM. It will realize that the PM is a person on whom no allegations of graft can stick. It will also realize that the people of this country believe the PM meant good in what he did. The BJP can’t have it both ways. Talk of federalism to block NCTC and then deny the federalism when it was practiced in coal allocations. Do nothing about auctions during its tenure and then blame the Congress for it. The din it creates may be amplified by Scam TV….but the truth will soon be out…..Scam TV or no scam TV!

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