COMMITTED to probity in public life and one of the best brains in the UPA II, Jiapal Reddy, was eased out from the Petroleum ministry in the recent cabinet reshuffle probably because of his no-nonsense stand against the unreasonable demand to raise the price of gas put forward by politically powerful petroleum giant Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL). His firm stand annoyed the Congress President and the Prime Minister to no end. Advice sent through emissaries to reconsider his “negative” stand had had no effect on the Minister.
Reddy would not buy RIL’s excuse that “geological” factors had forced it to reduce the production of gas in its off-shore fields in the Krishna-Godavari basin. His considered opinion was that the RIL was hoarding gas by slowing down production as a tactics to force the Government to revise gas price. He is believed to have recorded on the file that conceding the demand of the petroleum giant would lead to a loss of 6.2 billion dollars to the public exchequer. Reddy refused to relent under pressure from the powers-that-be and stuck to his stand that price review would be done only in 2014 as mandated. Reddy had to fight on two fronts – political bosses who wanted to help RIL for obvious reasons and a section of bureaucracy who are hand in glove with the cash-rich corporate. Petroleum Minister’s politically explosive note set the cat among pigeons and even the Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati remained non-committal. Reddy paid the price for his commitment to public good.
The Government remote-controlled by Sonia Gandhi is on the mat for showering favours to big business in the allocation of spectrum, coal and land. It now further stands exposed by punishing the minister who was faithfully discharging his duty as the custodian of nation’s scarce natural resources. This is not the first time that the Congress has eased out a minister who showed the courage to resist pressure from corporate and its cahoots in the political class and administration. In the year 2006, Mani Shanker Aiyar was eased out of the ministry for not being “industry-friendly”. Probity and refusal to fall in line with the petroleum giant appears to be a crime in the present dispensation. Reddy’s successor Veerappa Moily’s observation that decision making processes in the ministry had slowed down and that he would take “quick decisions “ on pending issues, including those pertaining to RIL is discomforting. Is he criticizing his predecessor and indicating that Sonia-Manmohan duo’s wishes and RIL’s demands would be expeditiously accepted? His observation doesn’t gel with his solemn assurance that his policy would be to serve the society and not any company. Moily is a seasoned and respected politician. His policy and conduct will be closely watched. At stake is not only the Minister’s credibility but also national interests. Reddy suffered humiliation for stopping the loot. Will Moily let his predecessor’s sacrifice go waste?
Dr Manmohan Singh said the recent cabinet reshuffle was the last. It may be the last one by him and would be remembered as a futile exercise. It was not only about side-lining transparently honest minister but also promoting, retaining and inducting into the Cabinet persons who face serious charges of corruption and at least one of them is rabidly communal. S M Krishna, though a senior politician, was a disaster as External Affairs Minister. His departure from the Cabinet was over-due. No one would miss him barring cartoonists. His successor Salman Khurshid recently made himself a laughing stock. He called a press meet to defend himself and his wife on charges of misappropriation of public funds by their NGO but ended up convincing no one. He threatened a media house and a social-activists-turned politician for exposing his NGO and demanding his resignation. Worse, he thundered that he had conducted a “reverse sting” on the media house that would expose the latter. It was probably an empty threat to blackmail the media house into silence. The Minister has produced no evidence, at least so far, to show that the media house was wrong. The desirability and timing of promoting Khurshid to the coveted External Affairs ministry has attracted a lot of flak from opposition parties and sections of media.
Retention of Shriprakash Jaiswal and Beni Prasad Verma in the Cabinet has sent a clear message about limitless tolerance of the Congress to malfeasance of its ministers and leaders. Both of them face serious charges of corruption in the allocation of coal blocks. They may land in jail if an independent and transparent investigation is conducted into the scam. Re-induction of Shashi Tharoor in the ministry is intriguing. He had to quit the Government in 2012 after he was found negotiating Rs 50 crore “sweet equity” for his girl friend and now wife, Sunanda Pushkar, for the Kochi IPL team. He is a snob who declined to travel “cattle class”. He tried to side-track the issue by blaming Narendra Modi for fixing a price on his priceless wife. Modi merely underlined the fact that the Minister had tried to get for Sunanda “sweet equity” worth Rs 50 crore. More disturbing is the appointment of K Rehman Khan as Minister for Minority Affairs. He is not only facing corruption charges but is guilty of promoting communalism. This column had some months back critically examined his speech at a Muslim gathering in which he exhorted the community to vote for only Muslim candidates on the premise that community was not well represented in state assemblies and Parliament. The Congress party known for pandering to minorities didn’t find it objectionable. “Muslim votes for only Muslim candidates” is a dangerous proposition that can play havoc with social harmony and may lead to a demand for a separate electorates for Muslims. What if it provokes a Hindu backlash?
Congress insensitivity to Corruption and malfeasance is taking the party downhill at a terrific speed. Successive scams destroyed its credibility, or what was left of it. No one in the party and the Government dared to suggest an enquiry into allegations of shady land deals by Robert Vadra, son-in-law of the dynasty. On the other hand, district officers were forced to issue clean chits to Vadra while a three-man committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary of Haryana Krishan Kumar was enquiring into the revelations made by Ashok Khemka, an IAS officer known for his honesty. Congress party’s brazenness in the face of serious charges of corruption and loot of natural resources gives one the impression that it has given up. Dr Singh has absolutely no stake in 2014 elections. Rahul refused to be a part of the sinking ship. He prefers to remain in the shadows and relishes enjoying power without responsibility. It appears that Rahul Gandhi is reconciled to his fate – to be the Leader of Opposition in the next Lok Sabha.