Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sack Attorney General now and Law Minister next week if indicted….but please don’t mix issues

The Supreme Court’s caustic comments against the Government call for some serious action. What the court has clearly established is that there was perjury committed. On the face of it, the perjury was committed by the ASG Harin Raval, and he has already quit. But what the ASG has said is equally important. Going by his letter (which the SC may want to check), the AG is guilty of perjury as well. If that’s established, he should quit or be sacked as well. However, let’s not mix issues here. There is no comment on Ashwani Kumar directly. Nor on the policy of administered allocations. Nor on any cases of corruption. The BJP is exulting as if the order was about all this!

As usual, the hullaballoo in the media today about the SC’s comments is misplaced. The SC has not indicted Ashwani Kumar. It has actually indicted the CBI for following the instructions of imagined, unauthorized bosses. Clearly after the Vineet Narain judgement delivered by the SC 15 years back, the CBI should have known that if at all (and really there was no reason here), it could have shared the report with its boss, the DoPT. But under no circumstances could it have done so with the Minister of Law. The CBI is clearly on thin ice here. The slap on its wrists could turn into a full blown demand for the resignation of the CBI Director as well, if the SC opines that he knowingly failed to fulfil this obligation. For now, that’s not the case, but I am sure more will emerge on this front in the days to come.

Like mentioned earlier, Ashwani Kumar has so far not been directly brought into the line of the SC’s fire. He was clearly out of line, but his defence can be that even if he was, the CBI could have resisted sharing the report. After all, nothing can stop anyone from making an illegal demand, but that by itself cannot be construed as being a  crime.

However, things could change dramatically next week when the CBI Director responds on what specific changes were made by Ashwani Kumar and the two bureaucrats from the PMO and the coal ministry. If there has been a material change in the CBI’s report, then all hell will break loose and Ashwani Kumar will have to rightfully go. But if the changes were minor ones, the developments will depend on what the SC feels about them. If it remains caustic, Ashwani Kumar will have to go. But if its lenient, then Ashwani Kumar may well get away with a light slap on his wrists.

The media hullaballoo is also wrong for one other reason. The SC has not ruled on the “scam” itself. There is not even a comment on that, leave alone an indictment. No one is guilty of anything yet. It’s still a political issue, with the jury out on whether the Congress was right in continuing with the policy of administered allocations. Honestly, that’s not even for the SC to judge. That’s a policy matter which Parliamentarians should decide on. And they hav already decided – in a political way! The Kalyan Banerjee (TMC) headed committee has blamed everyone from 1993 onwards, including the BJP when it ruled for six years! TMC being more “left” that the Left itself, the report is not surprising, considering the period of the report overlaps with the period of economic reforms initiated in 1991. The TMC cannot stand reforms!

Even in the 2G case, the SC eventually had to overturn the order of it’s 2-judge bench that all natural resources should only be auctioned. If the government had appealed the cancelation of the 2G licenses, it is possible the SC would have overturned that too, but the government chose not to, maybe inspired by the opportunity to milk the telecom industry and balance its fiscally distraught balance sheet (and we blame the Government for not being hungry for revenues????!). The SC has only argued against lack of transparency in issuance of 2G licenses, and such issues. In the coal case also, it is not for the SC to decide whether administered allocations are better or auctions.

Likewise, it is no business of the CAG to decide whether administered allocations are better or auctions. The CAG is a much discredited agency thanks to its freaky understanding of economics!

It is the CBI that has to investigate cases of corruption. So far, both the BJP and the Congress stand accused in the 11 FIRs filed by the CBI. Makes me wonder what Ashwani Kumar was up to. Was he trying to protect more Congress names from popping up? Was he trying to deflect blame from the PM who ran the coal policy for many years? Or was he trying to get the CBI to include more BJP names in its reports? After all, the 11th FIR was against a company that got its mines after a recommendation from Raman Singh, the BJP CM of Chhatisgarh. We’ll know the facts soon!

But politically, the coal scam has become a hot potato again. The BJP has seized it as a handy excuse (excuse, since it would have blocked Parliament in any case) to stop legislative work, hurting national interests but helping its political cause. The Congress has again been put on the backfoot and denied the glory that continuously dropping inflation, interest rates and petrol prices could otherwise have shone on it. It’s a cat and mouse game. Someday the BJP gets the upper hand; someday the Congress. But for god’s sake, don’t mistake this to be the denouement of any criminal case. That’s still years away. And the truth is still not out.

The real truth is that the PM must do what he’s promised. Take action after reading the SC’s comments. For now, the AG must go. Maybe next week, depending on what the SC says, the CBI Director and the Law Minister may have to go as well. The PM should worry more about his legislative agenda – and stay focused on that. We the people in the meantime should be careful not to mix issues....

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