Congress President Sonia Gandhi has used a college debater's trick to attack the Opposition's demand for a proper investigation into the 2G telecom spectrum scandal. She has set up an Aunt Sally by equating their call with the act of denigrating the sanctity of the institution of Prime Minister in particular. The irony is that it is the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government that is weakening the institutional foundations of good governance in the country. First, the principle of Cabinet accountability was given the heave-ho by allowing a telecom Minister to run a freelance spectrum allocation policy despite the objections of several Ministries and of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself. Secondly, as the Supreme Court of India has noted, the supposedly independent Central Bureau of Investigation has allowed its investigative responsibilities to be compromised by political considerations — as its actions, and in particular the much-delayed searches in this case, show. Thirdly, the UPA government appointed as Central Vigilance Commissioner a man who is not only facing charges of individual wrongdoing but who also helped run the Ministry whose actions are being investigated by the CBI, which the CVC is meant to supervise. Fourthly, it has allowed senior Ministers and party spokespersons to cast aspersions on the quality of the Comptroller and Auditor General's audit account of 2G spectrum allocation.
Most damning of all, the Congress stands guilty of being a party to the paralysis that gripped Parliament in the last session as a result of the standoff with the Opposition over the formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee. To be sure, one can question the Bharatiya Janata Party's track record in making telecom policy or its tactics in Parliament but the government has a responsibility to do all it takes to ensure the smooth functioning of the legislative branch. The Hindu has argued that the dimension and magnitude of the 2G scandal is so enormous that a parliamentary debate or a review of the CAG report by the Public Accounts Committee will not suffice. The PAC can do its work and Parliament can also conduct an open debate. But these cannot be a substitute for a comprehensive enquiry by an empowered JPC. While the CBI is investigating the criminality alleged and Justice Shivraj Patil is looking into the internal functioning of the Telecom Ministry, there is no agency other than the JPC that can investigate the wider murk of unethical behaviour involving politicians, corporate houses, lobbyists, and journalists from which the 2G scam eventually emerged. Instead of attacking the opposition, Ms Gandhi and Dr. Singh should reach out and clear the air so that the Budget session next year is not wasted in similar fashion.