The habit of covering up

Two years into UPA-II, Sonia Gandhi made the brave statement at a celebratory event that the Congress-led coalition would “take corruption head on” and “demonstrate through actions, not words, that we mean what we say.” She went so far as to claim that “transparency, accountability and probity are the very heart of our governance.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sounded similar sentiments in lower key, acknowledging that public concern over the “pervasiveness of corruption” was legitimate and pledging that his government would take “corrective action” and would not hesitate to act against “misuse of public office.” Considering how low the credibility of the UPA government has sunk on the issues of corruption and abuse of power — notwithstanding the Prime Minister's undisputed personal financial integrity — the task is uphill all the way. The 2-G spectrum allocation scam is India's biggest ever corruption scandal. Conducted right under the Prime Minister's nose and in defiance of the caution he advised, the scam progressed, enjoying immunity from serious investigation for an inordinately long time. But thanks to a rare combination of factors — the most important of which are public pressure, in part generated by the news media, and judicial intervention — some progress has been made by the Central Bureau of Investigation in bringing some of the corrupt to justice. Mr. A. Raja, ex-Telecom Minister, has been locked up in Tihar Jail and l'affaire Kalaignar TV has been exposed but the two questions on everyone's lips are: What about the role of other Ministers and bigwigs in the telecom mega scandal, which clearly goes back some years before 2007-08? And where has the rest of the money gone?

A Cabinet Minister now in the eye of the storm is Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran, also of the DMK. Relying on material thrown up by independent media investigations, first by The Economic Times (May 21, 2011) and then, in much greater detail, by Tehelka magazine (issue of June 4, 2011) — publications that have not been deterred by legal threats — the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has aggressively posed questions to Mr. Maran and the UPA government that can no longer be ignored. The questions relate to specific actions, policy changes, and transactions that took place during Mr. Maran's tenure as Telecom Minister (2004-07) or soon after. They focus on the sudden change of FDI norms in the telecom sector, which raised the FDI limit to 74 per cent; the consequences of this big policy change; the taking of the authority of determining the pricing of spectrum out of the purview of the Group of Ministers on the written insistence of Telecom Minister Maran; the allocation in November 2006 of 14 2-G Unified Access Services Licences for a throwaway price of Rs.1,399 crore to Aircel after the Malaysian business conglomerate, the Maxis Group, acquired a 74 per cent stake in the telecom operator; and subsequent investments by a Maxis subsidiary in Sun Direct TV Pvt Ltd and other Maran family-owned companies. The Congress spokesman's response to the effect that it is up to Mr. Maran to answer these questions, and that the Joint Parliamentary Committee could perhaps go into the issues, is the latest example of what WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange characterised, in an interview to The Hindu, as “a habit of covering up allegations of corruption.” The questions raised by the media investigations, and by the BJP, must be answered immediately by the UPA government and the Prime Minister — and the whole matter must be speedily investigated, without fear or favour.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 2:58:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-habit-of-covering-up/article2068660.ece

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