But getting the ‘nobody looted 2G spectrum’ verdict overturned in higher courts wouldn’t be enough; both bureaucracy and judiciary must reform
The judgment on the alleged second generation spectrum allocation scam, acquitting all accused, shocked the nation on 21 December, especially those who were so agitated that they had poured into the streets, creating an anti-corruption movement in 2011. The Indian National Congress cannot dare blame the people; hence, it trained its guns at the Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was not even his party’s prime ministerial candidate in 2010-11. Judge at the court of the Central Bureau of Investigation, Justice OP Saini has dismissed not only the indictment by the Comptroller and Auditor General but also the entire journalistic bodywork of reports that exposed the wrongdoing from the stage of breaking the first-come-first-served rule to offering licences to companies that had no track record in the telecommunications industry. If this lower court holds that the overall affair came across as a humongous act of corruption only because the rules for the sale of spectra were not properly laid down, one wonders what rule, if any, then telecom minister A Raja, with the consent of the then prime minister Manmohan Singh, was following. It was neither the AB Vajpayee-era urgency to desperately find some players in what was then a nascent market, nor the rule of an open auction that the next government adopted because now the market was ripe. The judge, at different stages, made the Dayanidhi and Kalanithi Maran, P Chidambaram, A Raja and Kanimozhi wriggle out of the corner, wanting us to believe that the CBI and ED reports running to thousands of pages in the Aircel-Maxis and 2G cases had no shred of admissible evidence. He even had the audacity to pooh-pooh the Supreme Court observation that the act of bringing the cut-off date of sale of the spectra from 10 October to the 1st of that month in 2007 and making it 25 September of that year eventually was aimed at benefiting one company. Justice Saini’s ruling that Unitech had applied a day before the last date above fails to explain why a construction company would get into the telecom business (collaborating with a European company).
However, while several other gaping holes in the lower court verdict stare one at the face, a plausible political question is being asked of the current government in the light of Modi’s sudden goodwill visit to Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam head M Karunanidhi’s house in the recent past. With the Anna DMK moving listlessly, the BJP is looking for a new ally in Tamil Nadu somewhat like the way it had struck a deal with the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal to go soft on the electoral campaign and be favoured in the Rajya Sabha in return, political observers have noted. The inability or reluctance of the National Democratic Alliance government to change the prosecution team in 2014 is, however, a weak argument legally. The charge sheet had been filed under the government of the United Progressive Alliance. If that document was turned tentative deliberately, a fresh investigation alone could set things right (as it happens after failed trials in cases of homicide and genocide). An appeal to the judge or even a higher court to re-examine the evidence submitted wouldn’t help if the ‘proof’ is controvertible in the first place. That notwithstanding, the nation witnessed an unprecedented occasion yesterday when the prosecution was celebrating the acquittal of those it was legally pitted against! Indeed, the charge sheet makers were officers of the Congress regime, in effect, making this party the prosecutor. Was the oldest political party not conceding virtually, through its act of hailing the verdict, that it had designed the case in a manner that it wouldn’t pass the judge’s scrutiny?
This is not to give the BJP a clean chit, though. The exoneration of all the accused in the 2G case, the relief to Ashok Chavan in Adarsh housing scam given by the Bombay High Court and also India’s vote at the United Nations against the United States’ decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, betraying a time-tested international friend Israel, show that the bureaucracy — legal, police, administrative and diplomatic — is no way under Modi’s control. These babus had earlier reduced the then new government to a laughing stock when the Ministry of Defence had filed an affidavit in court against another minister, MoS of External Affairs and former Army chief Gen VK Singh. The pattern on the foreign and domestic fronts is similar: A team of bureaucrats would continue executing the brief they had received under the previous government unless its successor pro-actively issues them a new set of instructions. Ergo, if Palestine was a friend of the Congress regime, it is presumed to remain the BJP’s friend too — unless otherwise dictated. If Gen Singh was at loggerheads with the Manmohan Singh government, he is not supposed to be in the good books of Modi either — unless otherwise instructed. This implies that any new government with an ideology different from its predecessor has to be constantly on its toes, reminding the glorified but asinine clerks routinely — before they commit the next embarrassing blunder — that the ruler’s belief system has changed. Given this unfeasible idea would put a big brake on governance, reforms in the structure and job profiles of all the workers in the behemoth called government are unexceptionable. The officialdom ought to change from the body of brainless, status quo-oriented zombies the British had left it as to serve their empire. Unfortunately, Modi believes scaring these officers enough to make them report to office sharp at 9 in the morning is adequate administrative reform!
Finally, a solution will have to be found to judicial incompetence, arrogance, arbitrariness, corruption and — of late — anti-cultural streak, too. It has to be beyond the legislature’s act of sending the National Judicial Appointments Commission’s recommendations to the apex court only to be snubbed and told that the collegium system would continue. People are losing patience with the judges, following a spate of awkward judgments on everything from sociological behaviour to cricket administration to environmentalism to socialist impositions on taxpayers to mass-scale acquittals of apparent crooks. Gone are the days when the judiciary served as a ray of hope for the wronged. If there is no course correction soon, the eventual fallout will be too dangerous to be spelled out at this stage.