The current demand for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s resignation on account of the statement of Mr. PC Parakh, former Coal Secretary when the PM was the Coal Minister, is laughable. The demand sounds ridiculous not because the PM should not resign, but because of the timing and occasion for making this demand. The reason adduced for demanding his resignation is that the PM was the final signatory to approve coal block allotment of 15 percent to the Aditya Birla firm in a joint venture with Public Sector Units. The deal was signed in 2005.
There is no evidence yet of any money having exchanged hands or any other quid pro quo. Up till now no coal has been extracted or profit made from the allotted coal block. Yet the opposition is very excited because the CBI filed a charge-sheet against the allotment. It seems the opposition is like a performing monkey dancing to the tune of a remote controlled CBI. The ignorance about basic democratic norms being displayed by the opposition is appalling.
According to media reports the CBI is in a dilemma about whether or not the Prime Minister should be questioned for the coal blocks scam. With an eye on legality the CBI claims it is concerned about the precise responsibility that devolves on the several officials related to the coal block allotments. It is strange that politicians should function under similar constraints. Politicians should not be concerned only with the letter of the law but also with well established and fundamental norms of democratic governance.
A prime democratic norm is the principle of constructive responsibility that ought to be observed by any minister dealing with affairs that fall under his jurisdiction. Have our worthy political leaders heard of this principle which provides the basis of democracy? It seems not. Cabinet Minister Mr. Kamal Nath actually told a TV interviewer that as Minister he signed hundreds of files and therefore could not be expected to know details of all what he was signing. “This is how the government works,” he said. Indeed it does. But this is not how any government in a functioning democracy ought to work. This work style makes mockery of democratic functioning which is based upon accountability.
Leading the current opposition charge against the PM the BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said:
“The time has come for Parakh to speak up. He has spoken a little, he should come out clean now, make public statements of how files were disposed of at that time (when the PM was in-charge of the coal ministry)... How chits were received from Congress party headquarters in the PMO and PMO transmitted those instructions to the coal ministry for allotment of coal blocks.”
Mr. Sinha has fallen into the trap. Suppose for argument’s sake not a single chit or telltale file were to incriminate the PM. Would that let the PM off the hook? Is a minister to be deemed responsible for corruption in his department only if he personally has his hand in the till? The total absence of the concept of constructive responsibility from our politics is the bane of Indian democracy. If that principle had been observed appropriately perhaps not a single leader of the government or the opposition would have survived in office.
With regard to the UPA government’s culpability in the ongoing mega corruption one need not be guided by what the CBI does or does not say. The CBI’s record is so tattered that the subject deserves separate treatment. There have been innumerable scams in the past yet not brought to conclusion by the CBI.
Most currently the Supreme Court has castigated the CBI for dereliction of duty in its investigation of the Nira Radia tapes. After studying the transcripts of the tapes the Court stated:
“We are prima facie convinced influential persons have indulged in corrupt practices for private gain…It emerges that actually money is paid for appointments.”
The Court wondered why the CBI despite knowledge of the contents in the tapes did not act for four years. It is this same CBI which is being heeded by the opposition with such touching faith in the latest chapter of the coal blocks scam. The opposition is up in arms because the PM can be targeted. But what was the opposition doing for these many past years when the PM and the entire cabinet could be targeted on much stronger ground? The real question has never been whether the PM and the entire cabinet should be made to resign. The question is for which of the half a dozen scams in which the cabinet was responsible should it have been sacked. But never mind the countless occasions when in deference to the principle of constructive responsibility this government should have resigned. Beyond that there was occasion when the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues were guilty of abetting corruption and therefore deserved not only to resign but to face prosecution in a court of law.
During the probe of the 2G scam Mr. Pranab Mukherjee had written a letter on March 25, 2011 to the Prime Minister which was intended as a background note on the 2G allocations. From its contents it became crystal clear that the PM and his senior cabinet colleagues were aware of what the accused in the case, former Telecom Minister Mr. A Raja, was doing. Mr. Raja was booked for criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery under various sections of Prevention of Corruption Act. From Mr. Mukherjee’s note it became clear that PM, the Finance Minister and the Home Minister were fully aware of Mr. Raja’s actions before he was charge-sheeted on April 2, 2011. However nobody in the cabinet had stopped him or acted against him. It was the Supreme Court that ordered the CBI to probe Mr. Raja.
Section 10 of the Prevention of Corruption Act reads:
“Whoever, being a public servant, in respect of whom either of the offences defined in Section 8 or Section 9 (defrauding the state) is committed, abets the offence, whether or not that offence is committed in consequence of that abetment, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall be not less than six months but which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.”
Did not the cabinet’s knowledge of Mr. Raja’s actions and failure to act make it complicit in the abetment of corruption? On September 29, 2011 all this was pointed out in these columns with the demand that the PM and the cabinet should be sacked and be prosecuted for abetment of corruption for which if guilty the ministers could undergo five years of imprisonment.
Yet, the BJP never spoke up. Why has it become active on a much weaker case?
One can only wonder who decides its strategy! If Mr. Rahul Gandhi becomes PM before 2014 would it not help him in the polls? CBI Director Ranjit Sinha was a favourite of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Ram Jethmalani (a Mrs. Gandhi loyalist then) when CBI protected Lalu Yadav in the Fodder Scam. Readers might recall that earlier I had drawn attention to a photograph taken in Mrs. Gandhi’s study in 10 Janpath showing Coalgate accused Manoj Jayaswal accompanied by Congress MP Vijay Darda, also Coalgate accused, and Mrs. Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, presenting a bouquet of flowers to Mrs. Gandhi. The file containing the recommendation letter from Mr. Darda to allot a coal block to Manoj Jayaswal is among the missing Coalgate files. I wrote that Mrs. Gandhi owed an explanation to the public about the circumstances which led to her meeting with Manoj Jayaswal in her study. Through mutual contacts the photograph and the article were circulated to all the top BJP leaders. None of them took up the issue of the missing file. But BJP leaders are busy slamming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. So knowingly or unknowingly, whose purpose are BJP leaders serving?