India Insight

Civil society points finger at PM in 2G scandal

By Annie Banerji

He can run, but he definitely cannot hide. The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ordered the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to release information regarding correspondence between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former telecom minister A Raja related to the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, which caused a loss of up to $39 billion to the national exchequer, in response to an applicant under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The prime minister has seen his popularity slump since he first came to power in 2004 with a downpour of high-profile corruption scandals, paralysed policymaking and a slow paced economy due to high inflation and interest rates. He finds himself under the scrutiny of not only opposition parties, but also civil society.

A civil society movement against corruption headed by popular Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare received nationwide support in April proving to the government that the masses do not treat corruption with nonchalance.

Now, the government is trying to avoid a repeat of April’s anti-graft protests by talking to a panel of civil society activists, including Hazare, who had forced it to fast-track a decades-old proposition for an independent ombudsman to investigate graft cases in high places. But the negotiations have seen divergent views emerge over the contents of the legislation, most importantly whether the prime minister should be investigated by the ombudsman.

Keeping this in view, the prime minister’s address to electronic media editors in February regarding his exchanges with A. Raja, the prime accused in the 2G scandal, comes to light. ¬†With no threat of an authoritative body to investigate his suspected role in the spectrum situation, Manmohan Singh had timidly refuted all claims of being in the wrong of matters.

Should the Congress agree to a JPC probe?

The parliament building in New Delhi December 1, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur

With parliament still deadlocked, does it make sense for the Congress to bow to opposition demands and set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the alleged telecoms scam?

If the government does agree to such a probe — and a few allies already think it should — it may well be in for a prolonged period of uncertainty.

A JPC in which the ruling party is in a minority and has to depend on mercurial parties for support will be a loaded gun.