OF late many scandals involving politicians have come to light but the 2G spectrum scam falls into a special category. Its magnitude, the delay in accepting the crime, the involvement of the top most political leaders of the ruling establishment and the direct and unscrupulous corporate nexus make the most eloquent, brazen and defining of all corruptions post-liberalisation India has seen.
It all started during the tenure of UPA-I. A timely exposure would have spared the country the agony of suffering the UPA-II. It was not to be. In the second innings the corrupt regime has become more reckless, absolutely cynical and incompetent. So we have the 2G spectrum scam before us.
It took too long to surface, still longer to acknowledge and it will take many more months to sink in the actual gravity of it all. In fact, corruption has become a way of life in India. People have become indulgent about it in politics and bureaucracy. There are no real time heroes in shining armour fighting for honesty and probity in public life. And in Telecom sleaze is passé ever since it became one of the most vital and indispensable part of the growth engine. Yet nobody expected an offence of this dimension.
It may not have been unearthed and recognised as the biggest scandal in free India but for the relentless pursuit by three different entities at their own independent levels. The first is the daily The Pioneer. Then the PIL by Dr Subramanian Swamy. And at last, the damning CAG report. Everybody who has some knowledge of the working of the Telecom Ministry knew that there was something fishy about the allotment of the scarce 2G spectrum to 122 companies in an arbitrary, secretive and selective manner at a throwaway price. The recipients made millions through resale. It was not a whimsical binge on the part of the then Telecom Minister A Raja as the Prime Minister and the Congress spokesmen initially tried to make out. It was a deep seated, well-planned conspiracy to bleed the country and fatten their cash chest. Some of the licence holders have nothing to do with telecom business. Some other corporate houses who got the allotment sold away their stakes at huge profit to foreign players.
Telecom was always mired in scandals, particularly after liberalisation and sadly, this sunrise sector of Indian economy was often managed by some of the most incompetent and corrupt politicians over the years. In the coalition era it became a mouth watering bargaining chip for ensuring parliamentary support.
The Pioneer broke the scam almost three years ago. With unwavering tenacity the paper followed it up almost on a daily basis with new facts and more clinching evidences. Frankly, one used to wonder, if the nation has become so indifferent or smug with corruption that for long, the exposures did not stir a political response. During the election, in May 2009, it was not even mentioned. The mainstream media almost totally ignored it. Rather, it was taken in its stride by political parties and the rest of the media. Then Dr Swamy approached the Prime Minister and later, the Supreme Court when his queries failed to elicit a response from the Prime Minister. Meanwhile, some officials in the ministry leaked more details as to how at every stage without any scruples the minister violated the rules to benefit his clients. The CBI stepped in when the activities of a dubious PR firm with the connivance of then Telecom Minister A Raja hit headlines. All the while, the UPA was in denial, claiming that the minister had done no wrong, The CAG report has finally exposed the full magnitude of the dirty deal. By appointing the tainted telecom secretary as the new Central Vigilance Commissioner, the UPA tried to cover up the entire scam.
The CAG has noted that 86 of the 122 Spectrum allocations were made to undeserving parties. It is imperative that the government, if it is serious about cleansing the system and recover the loss to the exchequer, cancel all licences given arbitrarily by Raja and order fresh auction. That is the only way to recover the revenue loss to the country. Immediate criminal investigations should follow to expose and punish the guilty. It is alleged that the bribe involved is to the tune of Rs 75,000 crore. The entire money has not gone into the DMK coffers. The Prime Minister has on a number of occasions tried to defend Raja. He also tried to down play the loss to the nation. The loss in revenue on a very conservative estimate is pegged at Rs 1,76,000 crore, which could have wiped out half of the national deficit. The culprits should not escape.
We are living in an era of politicians who openly display insatiable greed and audacious appetite for public wealth. But what we have in the 2G spectrum is the mother of all scams. It involves practically everybody from top to bottom in the government-all those who matter in public life, politicians, bureaucrats, corporate houses – and the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi cannot escape blame if not culpability.