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March 13, 2011

Page: 14/36

Home > 2011 Issues > March 13, 2011

The Moving Finger Writes
A nation badly let -down

By MV Kamath

Nothing in recent times has there been a more disappointing press conference than the one given by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh which was carried live by Doordarshan. Perhaps one has to blame the senior mediamen - TV editors - who were chosen to participate in the event. They were more restrained in raising substantial issues than is warranted. Perhaps they were over-awed. Perhaps they did not wish to push the Prime Minister to the wall. Perhaps they felt a live press conference is not the place to go on the offensive. But in the end the press meet revealed nothing. Indeed, it need not even have been organised. The most important issue raised related to the 2G Spectrum Scam. And the Prime Minister came through poorly.

How can one relate a business proposition to a fertiliser or foodgrain subsidy, beats one’s intelligence. Does the Prime Minister think we are all morons? When Kapil Sibal spoke about zero loss, he was sharply pulled-up by the Supreme Court. To compare the 2G Scam with subsidies given by the government to fertiliser and kerosene sales is to insult our intelligence. To say that the CAG has said that the loss suffered in the 2G Scam is "presumptive" implies that it all depends on how we look at it, which is no explanation. Why can’t the Prime Minister face up to facts and admit that there has been a grave relapse in administration? What bugs one is the long silence that the Prime Minister maintained over the scam. He could well have told the public immediately after the scam got exposed, what he told the press meet, namely, that he felt it unnecessary to interfere in the matter because both the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Telecom had agreed on how to handle the spectrum pricing, besides which, as he put it, TRAI is an expert body, Telecom Commission had experts and if all of them were of the same view, he did not feel he was in a position to insist that auction must be insisted.

The law, no doubt, will take its course and one has only to wait for the final judgement to be delivered to see who is right, and who, wrong. Then there is the question of appearing before the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). Dr Singh made it clear that so far as he is concerned, he is "not afraid of appearing before any committee, including the JPC". If that were so, why couldn’t he have conceded to the Opposition demand to appear before the JPC instead of making a song and dance about it? That would have taken the poison out of the Opposition bite. Was it necessary to fight the Opposition on so insignificant an issue? Is the Prime Minister so powerless that he can’t have his own way? Who runs the Government? The Prime Minister’s excuse for being a bit accommodative to A Raja is that he is running a ‘coalition government’. Fair enough. After all, one fights a coalition partner at one’s own peril, especially if the partner by opting out can bring a government down. But there can-and should be - also a Laxman rekha that even a powerful partner cannot cross.

A coalition government does not automatically give rights to a coalition partner, especially a strategic partner, to break the law at its sweet will and pleasure. Yes, the lead partner in a coalition has, by necessity, to be fairly accommodative, but if it doesn’t have the courage to stand up to its convictions, it would have abdicated its responsibilities. Power is not all. Principle is.

It is India’s tragedy that it does not have a political party that commands substantial public support. In the last two general elections, the Congress won between 23 to 28 per cent of the popular vote, showing how tenuous is its standing in the eyes of the public. That is all the more reason why the Congress has to show courage to uphold values. What Dr Singh has shown so blatantly is that, given the choice he would prefer to hang on to power than to principles. That does not raise his standing among his fellow citizens who, all these years, have held him in the hightest regard. The greater tragedy is that our parties have lost a sense of direction. It is power, power, power before everything else and values be blowed. It is to such a stage that the country has been reduced.

Is it any wonder, then, that the public has turned cynical? According to the new coalition dharma, the leader of the coalition is powerless. Ministers in the Central government are nominated by the regional party bosses and are accountable not to the Prime Minister, but to their patrons back home whose word is law and whose instructions have to be strictly obeyed - or else.

In the matter of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) the Prime Minister has given an assurance that "wrong doers will not escape this time." Oh really? We will have to take him at his word and await developments even if it takes months and years to know the truth by which time the public would have begun to wonder what CWG is all about. Justice delayed is justice deprived.

Then there is the strange case of the Gandhi family being accused of having accounts in a Swiss bank since the 1880s. That charge has been repeatedly made over the years with the Gandhi family maintaining a discreet silence. It all started with a report in a Swiss Journal Schweizer Illustrierte, a highly reliable paper with a circulation of 2,15,000 that said that Sonia Gandhi was controlling a secret account in a Swiss bank, in her son’s name, to the tune of $ 2.2 billion. That charge had been repeatedly made over the years, the latest being in Bharatiya Pragna (January 2011). The BJP had appointed a task force to inquire into the amount of black money stashed by Indians in foreign banks and the task force had apparently mentioned the names of the Gandhi family. We now understands that the charge has been formally denied by Sonia Gandhi and LK Advani has sincerely apologised. That is very gracious of him. However, Advani in his reply to Sonia Gandhi reportedly had asked why she had not denied the charges against her family earlier. But this raises another issue. Will S Guruswamy who recently had written a long article criticising Smt Gandhi, in turn, apologise or will he stick to the accusations he made against her? One wants the country which has all along been feeling tremendously let down, to start life all over again with a clean slate. Sadly, Dr Singh seems incapable of helping in the process. It may have been a gracious act on his part to defend A Raja as it is for Shri Advani to apologise to Smt Gandhi. The former Supreme Court Chief Justice has been put on the mat. Maybe we should apologise to him also as also to Suresh Kalmadi and to P J Thomas. And why not? We Indians are a gracious lot, and are quick to forget. Let us now be quick to forgive!

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