Politics, accidents & early polls

Political accidents cannot be predicted and as I have often said, no one can tell where they may come from. The reins of governance are slipping from the hands of UPA leaders so it is good that Congress president Sonia Gandhi is well and fully involved in seeking a solution to the party’s internal issues.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returned from his six-day visit to New York with an “all-is-well” smile, but landed right in the middle of a political crisis. There is a severe deficit of confidence in the government and Dr Singh is very much in the eye of the storm.
The 2G scam still lingers, with some new names coming up. It now appears that former telecom minister A. Raja had kept Dr Singh and then finance minister P. Chidambaram in the loop about the pricing of spectrum licences, a fact that was kept from the public for over three years as the scam unfolded. No one has yet accused anyone in the Congress of making money from the deals, but the revelation that the 2G scam is no longer restricted to the DMK and may involve the Congress’ home minister, is a serious matter.
The letter sent by the finance ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office in March this year on the 2G scam created this “storm” though it is little more than a narration of events. The four-page letter, which was okayed by Pranab Mukherjee, gives a detailed account of the views expressed by the PMO, finance and law ministry, and other departments of the government.
Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy and advocate Prashant Bhushan have raised pertinent points before the Supreme Court — Mr Swamy has demanded a probe into Mr Chidambaram’s role in the 2G scam case and Mr Bhushan has called the CBI probe “less than honest”. While we must wait for the court’s decision, in my opinion the UPA made a serious mistake in allowing the CBI to question Arun Shourie and Jaswant Singh, both of whom are of unquestionable integrity. It will find it difficult to ignore demands for an official probe into the home minister’s role.
It is sad but the compulsions of survival have severely damaged the integrity of our leaders. The DMK, with its multiple family interests, extracted its pound of flesh from the UPA, and Dr Singh, for the sake of “survival”, compromised on principles he obviously holds dear in his personal capacity.
Dr Singh is a good man and his family members have behaved impeccably throughout his prime ministership, but we have to draw a line between personal integrity and the decisions he has taken as Prime Minister. Coalition politics is like a minefield where the best have to suffer just to survive. Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, too, got into problems in the JMM bribery case.
I sincerely hope that the 2G scam and the “cash-for-votes” issues do not fester and spread in the coming months. The blame game must stop and the issue resolved soon. But for that to happen, the Congress has to present a united front.

Since the Baba Ramdev episode at Delhi airport in June, where he was given a red-carpet welcome by some Congress leaders, it’s been clear that the decision-making apparatus of the UPA-2 government has not been functioning as it should. The list of “hits and misses” on crucial issues has been growing askew.
Dr Singh and the Cabinet committee on political affairs (CCPA) are the final authority for all sensitive political decisions, though this chain of command didn’t work well in the Anna Hazare episode nor in the handling of the 2G controversy. The recent bickering between senior Cabinet ministers, both of whom are CCPA members, indicates to me that either there is a serious communication gap or an alternative power structure is deliberately creating confusion in the system.
I do not know what is right or wrong in a system where there is no transparency in funds collection. I have yet to see a politician at the top level who is not guilty of using funds which are a dark shade of black!
According to me, decisions on 2G spectrum allocation were made by Mr Raja and the DMK high command and no one, except the Prime Minister, in any government would have the authority to agree to the request to keep spectrum pricing from the group of ministers. I am told by very reliable sources that there will be more “leaks” before the complex jigsaw puzzle sorts itself out over the next month.
Mrs Gandhi has met Mr Mukherjee and Mr Chidambaram, and both met the Prime Minister separately. I have little doubt that “all will be well” for a while, but the 2G issue is far from over. My instincts tell me that mid-term elections may be inevitable.

The writer is a former Union minister

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