Musketeers Of The Court And The Ledger
The extraordinary persistence of the three prime movers in the case has paid offWhat do Subramanian Swamy, Prashant Bhushan and Vinod Rai have in common? Swamy could be called a politician turned anti-Congress evangelist, often dubbed as a man with a destructive streak and a pet peeve—targeting the top leaders of the Congress. Bhushan is a staunch human rights advocate whose strident attack on corruption has brought an unrepentant UPA-II to the point of paralysis. Rai heads a constitutional body, the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG), whose stinging report on the 2G spectrum scam gave him an almost adversarial aura vis-a-vis the UPA. Such were the unlikely forces that finally coalesced on February 2, creating in their wake hope for those battling institutionalised corruption and lack of transparency in governance.
It might seem the trio was working in tandem towards the February 2 order of the Supreme Court cancelling 122 licences given to telecom companies by former Union minister A. Raja, now in prison as an undertrial. In the chaotic scenes witnessed after the order, the government was forced on the backfoot. The wider consensus in the public was that the verdict was a strong indictment of the government, accused by many of having looked the other way as scams overtook governance. Such a scathing order is bad news any time; it’s all the more so when crucial assembly elections are being held in UP and other states.
For Swamy, a Harvard professor whose contract was terminated following an inflammatory article in a Mumbai-based newspaper in which he spewed venom on the Muslim community, February 2 was victory day too. He had petitioned the 2G spectrum trial court and the apex court, levelling charges against Union home minister P. Chidambaram of playing a role in the scam, though at one remove. Swamy wanted Chidambaram investigated. He argued that the home minister should be made a co-accused with Raja, as the latter could not have moved ahead without a nod from the finance ministry, then headed by Chidambaram. For Swamy, often described as a maverick and political outsider, the apex court ruling that the trial court should decide on prosecuting Chidambaram within two weeks is a vindication. He sees in it a possible victory and told a channel, “This is not a reprieve for Mr Chidambaram.”
The third player is Rai, the sports-loving head of CAG. He was accused of leaking the 2G audit report before it was placed before Parliament—a charge Rai vehemently denies. He maintains that the report was placed in Parliament and a press conference held after it was made public. Rai remained unfazed by the criticism. And present telecom minister Kapil Sibal’s open scepticism about CAG’s estimation of a Rs 1,76,000 crore loss to the exchequer has now come back to bite.
As for Chidambaram, it is up to the trial court of Judge O.P. Saini to decide whether he should be formally investigated. It’s still an open case. Justice Ganguly, in a retirement speech on the afternoon of the day he delivered the verdict, made this cryptic comment: “I am at the end of my innings as a judge. I always tried to play with a straight bat.”