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A static government and its bumbling ministers

February 07, 2011 14:51 IST

When educated ministers like Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram are forced to defend the indefensible it shows a certain desperation in the top power structures in the ruling UPA, says Virendra Kapoor.

Oh, these educated ministers

Now, who do you trust? If you believe Kapil Sibal, the legal-eagle who stepped into A Raja's shoes following the latter's forced exit from the telecom ministry, there was zero revenue loss in the 2-G spectrum scam. (Pray, why call it a scam then?) Yes, Raja had done something wrong but it was no more than a mere technical error, Sibal had thundered at a specially convened press conference.

Last week, Raja was arrested. The Central Bureau of Investigation told a Delhi court that his decision in allocating the very same 2-G spectrum had caused a loss of Rs 22,000 crore. (only?) The court refused bail to Raja and remanded him to five days' police custody.

Therefore, the vital question: who is right: Sibal or the CBI? Frankly, given the low credibility of politicians and the CBI, in normal circumstances it would be hard to choose between the two. However, in this case there is overwhelming evidence that the premier investigating agency may be closer to the truth than the minister-turned-lawyer for Raja. If anything, the CBI could be faulted for grossly understating the loss. 

Remember that the lowest figure of loss in the well-considered report of the Comptroller and Auditor General is some Rs 57,000 crore, while the highest is Rs 1.76 lakh crore. Given the ingrained habit of the CBI to sing the tune of its political masters, even the vastly reduced figure of Rs 22,000 crore is a matter of gratification.

More than the relentless anti-corruption campaign by the Opposition, the Supreme Court's overview of the investigations seems to have forced the government's hands to concede that there indeed was a scam committed in the award of precious spectrum.

How, then, do you explain the fierce defence of Raja by his successor in the telecom ministry? Easy. Being more loyal than the king, Sibal may have told a down-in-the-dumps Manmohan Singh not to worry about the charges of corruption flying all around him. He was ready and able not only to demolish those charges, but, what is more, to take the fight to the Opposition, accusing it of huge corruption when it was in power.

So, Sibal convened a press conference to rubbish charges of wrong-doing in the allocation of 2-G, and, as part of the same strategy of denial and outright lie, appeared on several television channels, most aggressively rooting for Raja while accusing the latter's critics of being ill-informed, nay, ignorant. How offensive was the double-barreled minister in defending the indefensible can be seen in those television interviews.

Now, the latest feat of Kapil-foot-in-the-mouth-Sibal is that he has fired yet another salvo against the NDA government using the shoulder of a retired Supreme Court judge who is a close relative of former home minister Shivraj Patil.

Yet, if Arun Shourie as telecom minister was really in the wrong how is it that neither the CVC, nor the CAG, nor, for that matter, the CBI ever uttered a word? Why was the UPA government silent for nearly seven years?

Indeed, after the Raja scam hit the ceiling, street-smart ministers like Sibal ought to have exposed Shourie. They did not. Because they could not. And for a very good reason. And that is that what Raja did under the watchful eyes of Manmohan Singh is unparalleled in the history of corruption, beginning with the jeep scandal of Krishna Menon back in 1948.

You cannot just outdo the Congress party when it comes to corruption because it is in its DNA. Yes, all other parties are trying to ape its wicked ways, but they have a long way to go before they can catch up with the mother of all corruption in the country.  

But Sibal is not the issue. He is like those well-provided professionals who occasionally drift into politics for name and fame and invariably end up making complete fools of themselves. Most parties have such leaders who have made lateral entry into politics after duly securing their financial future. In order to get ahead, they resort to the same underhand tactics for which the professional, grassroots politicians are rightly notorious for. For sure, Sibal undertook to defend Raja in order to impress a demoralised prime minister who, by all accounts, is really frustrated at his own cluelessness in coping with the gathering storm over corruption.

Another such politician is P Chidambaram. Like Sibal, he too has come from the legal profession and, like Sibal, he too has secured his financial future. And now seeks power and glory in the world of politics. Even though he craves popularity, he is barely able to hide his contempt for ordinary mortals. For once, senior Congress leader, Digvijay Singh, wasn't off the mark when he accused the Union home minister of being arrogant. In a world teeming with intellectual pigmies, Chidambaram cannot be blamed for preening himself as an intellectual giant.

However look at the great feat this intellectually arrogant Chidambaram has achieved. The prevarications, half-truths, and outright suppressions of facts in the on-going PIL on the appointment of P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner tell their own story of a government becoming a victim of its own misdoings. Let us consider the cleverness of Chidambaram in pushing ahead with Thomas's appointment.

The three-member selection committee had him, the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, as members.

Given that Thomas was an accused in the palmolein import case ought to have barred him for consideration for CVC's job. For undisclosed reasons, the government insisted on appointing only him as CVC. And, therefore, sought to hide from Swaraj the fact of his being listed as an accused in a corruption case. However, when Swaraj surprised Chidambaram and Singh and mentioned the fact of that charge-sheet to argue against Thomas's appointment, it was our intellectually arrogant home minister who most rudely brushed aside her objections.

The trouble that appointment has caused the government should be able to help you, dear reader, to figure out whether educated politicians are any better than the so-called uneducated ones. At least the uneducated ones do not know, are not supposed to know, what grievous blunders they are committing. The educated ones like Sibal and Chidambaram commit mistakes knowingly and deliberately in the mistaken belief that everyone else is so dumb that they wouldn't be able to notice.

The costly self-goals by the two most educated ministers in the Manmohan Singh government remind one of the old mythological tale about a man named Kalidas sitting on the same branch of a tree which he was furiously cutting. When a passerby, say, Sushma Swaraj, sought to alert him against the danger of cutting the very branch he was sitting on, Kalidas brusquely ticked her off and  asked her to mind her own bloody business. Sure enough, as was to be expected, a few minutes later, Kalidas came tumbling down, broke his head and limbs and barely survived.

The government ignored objections against Thomas's appointment as CVC and was now tying itself in knots explaining that grave wrong in the apex court. One detects a woeful lack of application of mind in the decision-making process in the government. And one certainly espies the influence of extraneous interests in that process. It was sheer arrogance that led Chidambaram to believe that the government could thrust a tainted Thomas as CVC and the country would accept him without a murmur.

In fact, even without that charge-sheet against him, Thomas was not the appropriate candidate for CVC's post because he was a party to an attempt to suppress investigations into the 2-G scam as secretary in the telecom ministry. He had told the then CVC that the allocation of spectrum was a policy matter which did not fall in his (CVC's) ambit and therefore should not be investigated.  

That Thomas had a powerful godfather was not in doubt. For, he was brought to the Centre from his parent cadre, Kerala, on deputation against the established rules of service. In fact, the rules were amended for his sake. The identity of that powerful backer would reveal the murky manner in which the government was being run.

Virendra Kapoor