The arrest of former Telecommunications Minister A. Raja by the Central Bureau of Investigation is a significant milestone in the ongoing criminal investigation into the trillion-rupee 2G spectrum allocation scam. After several rounds of questioning, and searches at his residences and at business firms where he was suspected to have investment interests, the CBI seems closer to filing charges and beginning prosecution. But coming as it did three years after the scandalous transactions, the arrest raises the question what and who prevented India's premier criminal investigation agency from doing what it is required to do under the law of the land. Although the CBI searched the offices of the Department of Telecommunications in October 2009 after the Central Vigilance Commission asked it to probe irregularities in the grant of telecom licences, no headway was made in the so-called preliminary enquiry until the Supreme Court began monitoring the case. For more than a year, the CBI was content to let sleeping dogs lie, keeping up a pretence of investigation. That the agency was taking its cue from ruling politicians was clear, what with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking up for Mr. Raja at every available opportunity. As is evident from the 2007-2008 correspondence between him and Mr. Raja (see ‘Resources' at www.thehindu.com), Dr. Singh was fully in the picture when the then Telecommunications Minister decided not to go for auction of a highly valued scarce resource and do all that happened under cover of the ‘first-come, first-served' policy. In fact, the record shows that the Prime Minister first raised doubts about this course but went along with the decision-making.
As opposition leaders have argued, the issues go well beyond Mr. Raja. In the first place, a proper investigation must identify the many beneficiaries in independent India's biggest corruption scandal and bring them to justice. Secondly, with the latest development in the case, the opposition's demand for a joint parliamentary committee to look into wider aspects of the scam — including the Prime Minister's accountability for the actions of a Cabinet colleague that he knew about and did little to stop — has gathered force. The arrest, which signifies the CBI's progress, however slow in its investigation, has come as a huge embarrassment to the current Telecommunications Minister, Kapil Sibal — who only recently went out of his way to defend the indefensible, asserting among other things that there was no loss to the government exchequer from the 2G spectrum allocation. Is the arrest of Mr. Raja an indication that the CBI has at last broken free from political tutelage in the 2G spectrum case? The answer to this question might be available in the next stage in the investigation.