Messy business

The 2G spectrum scam continues to draw fire, so much so that Parliament’s Winter Session was adjourned after 23 days of constant conflict. I already see signs of “fatigue” in this battle, and the reason for this could be the raids conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on former telecom minister A. Raja and his aides and that the telecom ministry, now headed by Kapil Sibal, has started taking corrective action on the issuing of 2G licences.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to have lost some moral ground by his silence and inaction, but this impression can change very quickly if Mr Sibal takes effective steps to cancel the licences and recover lost revenue.
The Supreme Court hearing on the scam and the observations made by judges on several issues give the 2G controversy a positive direction. I have little doubt that the best investigation will be a CBI probe supervised by the Supreme Court.
The fact is that from the beginning, and under different regimes, few decisions in the telecom ministry have been fair and many business houses have benefited at the expense of others. The 2G scam was a disaster waiting to happen.
I sincerely hope that all this will become a part of the proceedings when the probe comes to its logical conclusion and will lead to some transparency in political collections. Unless this takes place, a small group of unscrupulous individuals will continue to hold the entire system to ransom.
No one believes that Mr Raja was the sole beneficiary of the scam that runs into thousands of crores of rupees. As the raids and the 24x7 media investigations proceed, the entire family of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M. Karunanidhi will come under review. The DMK’s alignment with first the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and then with the United Progressive Alliance-1 and UPA-2 and the plum portfolios held by them, will have to be examined.
The role of Dayanidhi Maran, telecom minister from 2004-2008, needs looking into carefully.
Pressure of exposure may lead to more disclosures by people close to the family. In the initial raids we heard of 10-12 companies associated with Mr Raja and his family and there is talk of funds received from Cyprus, Mauritius, and even Libya.
Should we be surprised that a piece of land valued at `250 crore came into the possession of a close associate of DMK MP Kanimozhi’s mother for a mere `25 crore?
The legal controversy over Mr Raja allegedly trying to influence a Madras high court judge in a criminal case is haunting former Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan with a sitting judge of the Supreme Court H.L. Gokhale contradicting him.
It is sad to see that while the former CJI juggles words and technicalities, there are calls for his resignation as chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission.
The 2G spectrum issue has festered for over a year with UPA-2 taking no action despite the filing of the first information report (FIR). This gave all concerned adequate time to hide or a dispose of documents and money. But this is easier said than done — huge amount of money was involved and assets created by these illegal funds will not vanish into thin air.
Though the contents of the Niira Radia tapes have become grist for the gossip mills, politicians and businessmen will now be forced to think twice before using power brokers, whether from the business world, the media or the political arena.
The media cannot be controlled by anyone on any issue for too long, and the “loyal” news channels do little good in the long run. However, the fact is that the media is also owned by powerful business interests who have gained hugely from services rendered by the power brokers. The wealth of a few journalists would humble many tycoons and I hope that all this tumbles out of the closet and the media cleans its own stables.
New Niira Radia tapes continue to be “leaked” and there is little doubt that those involved have had their “cover” blown and are no longer of any use to any political party.
Ms Radia has been accused of being a “spy”, but I think that is too far-fetched. She is a corporate lobbyist and there are many others like her, though perhaps not in her league. It is unfortunate that corporate leaders who have access to top political leaders are forced to deploy these lobbyists. But it is also important to know if the tapping of the telephones of Ms Radia — for close to two years for over 5,000 hours — was about tax evasion or was this part of a corporate battle?
Political battles are determined in the political arena but it would be unfortunate if financial power groups dominate and manipulate political decisions, as we have seen in the 2G scam. And this is happening with a government where the top leadership is known for its integrity.
The public is in a bad mood as corruption and extortion have spread to every facet of our lives.
The 2G scam should be the jolt that compels urgent action. Otherwise, anyone who takes the electorate for granted will suffer the consequences at the ballot. The impact of the 2G scam will first be seen in the results of the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, due in the next six months. That will be the people’s message and politicians must pay heed or pay.

Arun Nehru is a former Union minister

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