So nobody made money in 2G scam, nobody flouted norms, nobody was complicit while laying down an arbitrary “first come first serve” policy on antiquated pricing. In the end, the special CBI court verdict on this case, which stirred national conscience for years and led to demise of UPA-government, is like the verdict in Jessica Lal murder case and Aarushi and Hemraj murder case: No one killed Jessica, no one killed Arushi and Hemraj, and now no one caused 2G scam.
What makes the lower court order even more curious as it comes over five-and-half-years after two-judge bench of Supreme Court said, while cancelling 122 licences that A Raja “virtually gifted away the important national asset at throw away prices”.
Armed with special CBI court order acquitting all accused in the 2G scam, the Congress was back to claiming “zero sum loss”, and also demanding explanation from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP for having made it an issue against UPA.
In Congress’ thought process, the verdict has given them an opportunity to claim vindication and charge the BJP with a conspiracy to label the erstwhile Congress regime as neck deep in corruption or the most corrupt government ever.
The Congress’ chest thumping has another angle: It wants to convey a message to the its ally, the DMK in Tamil Nadu, that it was the BJP and not the Congress which was responsible for their plight where two of its top leaders, A Raja and Kanimozhi, had the ignominy of being lodged in Tihar Jail for a prolonged period.
A Raja was in jail for 15 months and Kanimozhi was in jail for six-and-half-months. The party’s eagerness to strike a fresh fraternal bond with DMK was heightened by Modi’s surprise visit to DMK chief Karunanidhi’s home in Chennai.
The prime minister’s visit broke the ice that was there for past decade and half between the BJP and DMK. Almost all family members, including MK Stalin, Kanimozhi and Karunanidhi’s two wives gave a warm welcome to Modi. The visit had the potential to alter political alignment ahead of the 2019 general election.
In its enthusiasm to claim vindication—to quote Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, the Congress was treating the lower court verdict as a “badge of honour”, the Congress and its top leadership seems to be experiencing some kind of amnesia.
Let us consider the facts: The 2G scam, which occurred during UPA-I, came to the fore during UPA-II after a 2010 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report alleged arbitrary allocation of spectrum to telecom companies by the government led to a whopping loss of 1.76 lakh crore to the state exchequer.
Vinod Rai, the then CAG, an IAS officer of impeccable credentials, was appointed by the Congress-led UPA government. Prior to that, he served as secretary in finance ministry. It was not the BJP but the UPA — forced by CAG report, public anger and tough stance taken by the Supreme Court — which initiated the CBI inquiry.
It was the UPA and not the BJP which sacked then telecom minister A Raja. It was also during the UPA regime that A Raja, Kanimozhi, and a whole lot of other people were sent to jail and denied bail for a long time. It was also during the UPA rule that charge sheet in the case was filed and Supreme Court gave a series of stinging observations.
It must also be noted that during that period, when 2G scam was being furiously debated in media and all other public forums, thereby raising political temperature and stirring popular psyche, Narendra Modi was nowhere in picture, at least on the national stage.
The BJP was then accused of not doing anything on its own, but simply latching on to what was said in CAG report and indictments made by the Supreme Court. The BJP would have failed in its duty if it had not raised the issue with the force with which it did.
The larger question, which Thursday’s verdict and Congress’ claim of fair play raises is: If there was no scam and nobody was guilty, then why did Supreme Court cancel all 122 licences allocated by the government and order auction of the same?
Remember, the Supreme Court in its 2 February, 2012 order, while declaring the allocation of spectrum as illegal and cancelling 122 licenses, said that the process followed by telecom ministry under A Raja directions was “wholly arbitrary, capricious and contrary to public interest apart from being violative of the doctrine of equality” to “favour some companies at the cost of the public exchequer”.
The apex court also took on the Telecom Regulation Authority of India (TRAI) for its role in the entire episode, saying that the regulator’s approach was “lopsided” and “contrary to the decision taken by the Council of Ministers” and its recommendations became a “handle” for A Raja who “virtually gifted away the important national asset at throw away prices”.
A bench of Justices GS Singhvi and AK Ganguli also held that spectrum was a natural resource and natural resources “are vested with the government as a matter of trust in the name of the people of India, and it is the solemn duty of the state to protect the national interest, and natural resources must always be used in the interests of the country and not private interests.”
It noted that there was a fundamental flaw in the first-come, first-served principle, inasmuch as it “involves an element of pure chance or accident… In matters involving award of contracts or grant of licence or permission to use public property, the invocation of the first-come, first-served principle has inherently dangerous implications.”
Jaitley indicated that the Modi government would appeal in the high court. “I am sure investigating agencies and prosecuting agencies will look into it and decide what to do further in the matter. The Congress should not consider this as some kind of certificate of clean chit,” Jaitley said.
Turning to its political implications: How will the verdict impact politics and political alignments at the Centre? Though the DMK has gone on record to say that it continues to be Congress’ ally, the fact that the charges were framed against Raja and Kanimozhi when UPA was in power and were acquitted when BJP is in power can make the Tamilian party more amenable towards Modi and BJP in 2019, if it needs to be.