“Raja's arrest and filing of FIR against Ashok Chavan demonstrate government action against corruption”

With the arrest of the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, on Wednesday, which comes in the wake of the filing of a First Information Report (FIR) against the former Maharashtra Chief Minister, Ashok Chavan, and follow-up action promised within a week on the first of the Shunglu reports on the Commonwealth Games scam, the Congress's strategy, party sources said, is to try and neutralise the Opposition campaign against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government on the key issue of corruption.

The party, the sources said, would also compare the way the UPA government is dealing with corruption with the manner in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government acted while in power.

The sources said the government's demonstrated willingness to act against wrongdoers, whether from the Congress or allied parties, would bear fruit at the all-important meeting of Opposition parties called by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on February 8.

The meeting would try and break the parliamentary deadlock ahead of the budget session, starting on February 21. So far, while the Opposition parties other than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have indicated their willingness to allow Parliament to function, even though they have not given up their demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the 2G spectrum scam, the BJP remains adamant on both counts.

Officially, the Congress reacted circumspectly to the arrest of Mr. Raja. Party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told journalists: “This is nothing but the continuance of a legal process, uninfluenced by considerations of alliance partners or party politics. The law has been taking its course, and will continue to do so.” On whether the Congress welcomed Mr. Raja's arrest, he said, “There is no question of either welcoming it or not. It is a fact.”

With the Assembly elections due in Tamil Nadu in a few months, the Congress clearly needs to balance the need to take action against Mr. Raja without appearing gleeful about the arrest of a member of an allied party, with which it will be going to the polls, party sources said, pointing out that when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi was here earlier this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had briefed him on the Raja issue.

The Congress also turned its firepower on the BJP, when asked to respond to the Opposition party's claim that the government had acted under pressure. “We are not in the business of satisfying political opportunism,” Mr. Singhvi said, adding, “The BJP, of course, acts neither under pressure of other parties nor responds to its conscience when it comes to Mr. Yeddyurappa.” The Congress, he said, had made it clear that whether it was the CWG or 2G, the guilty would be punished — it was in this context, he added, that the BJP needed to be reminded about its Chief Minister in Karnataka.

The ruling party is also anxious to protect the Prime Minister. Responding to the Opposition party's comment that Mr. Raja's arrest was proof of the government's guilt, because of the principle of collective responsibility, Mr. Singhvi said, “No one will accept that that either the UPA government or the Prime Minister is affected [adversely]. The government's and the PM's reputation has been enhanced by the action.”

Party sources later added that the fact that the Prime Minister was in the loop on the telecom policy being followed did not mean that he was aware of — and responsible for — every single action taken by Mr. Raja in his capacity as Telecom Minister. Further, these sources said that criminal liability could be against an individual or individuals, but not collective.


Manmohan-Raja correspondence on 2G spectrumDecember 23, 2010

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