The government is in a crux as to whether or not it must implement a JPC
26-Feb-2011 •Paranjoy Guha Thakurta
At the time of writing this column, it appeared as if there was a distinct possibility that the government would agree to accede to the demand of the Opposition by setting up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) that would inquire into the second-generation (2G) spectrum scandal. Manmohan Singh has reportedly been the biggest opponent apparently arguing that if he has to appear before an all-party panel of MPs, the Opposition would try their best to make a spectacle out of the occasion that would not just demean him and the office he holds.
Why then is the government veering round to the view that it would be better to accept the Opposition’s demand? The answer is simple. Both the BJP as well as the Communists have made it clear that the Budget session of Parliament will be washed out like the winter session if the government does not agree to establish a JPC. It seems the government is of the view that a situation in which Pranab Mukherjee reads out his proposals for the Union Budget for 2011-12 in a House where the political opposition to the incumbent regime is absent, would further damage the already-battered image of the government.
A second spectrum scam involving the Indian Space Research Organization has worsened the already-tarnished image of the country’s rulers. Buffetted by allegations of corruption and nepotism, the perception is that Dr Singh’s government is currently in a state of paralysis. There’s an uncanny similarity between today’s political atmosphere and the one that prevailed in the country during the last three years of the Rajiv Gandhi government. After the Bofors scandal, people forgot that here was a government with the biggest-ever majority in the Lok Sabha headed by the country’s youngest-ever Prime Minister who was keen on making India modern and ready for the 21st century. The image that persisted was that of a corrupt and inefficient regime.
Dr Singh’s personal integrity is not in question. But in the case of the 2G scam, the question that is being asked is why the PM chose to turn a blind eye to the corrupt practices of his erstwhile Cabinet colleague for as long as three years. This is a question that he has chosen not to answer. And that is why even if a JPC is formed, the government would at best get a brief respite from the criticism that is being directed against Dr Singh. The government is damned if it does set up a JPC and damned if it doesn’t.
The government bungled in appointing P J Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner by overruling the objection of the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj. Adding to its woes, a proactive Supreme Court is monitoring the CBI’s investigations into the 2G spectrum scam. The court recently remarked that there were people who considered themselves to be above the law of the land — including those who appeared on the Forbes list of millionaires. The claim by Communications Minister Kapil Sibal that the government had not incurred any loss whatsoever while allocating 2G spectrum in January 2008 has found few takers, including the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
Consequently, the government has chosen to follow a ham-handed strategy of obfuscation. A new telecommunications policy is being announced, the findings of a Constitutional authority like the Comptroller and Auditor General of India have been trashed by pretending that nothing untoward happened and past governments have been blamed for the present mess. The Congress is desperately hoping this strategy will work in short run, at least till the time the outcome of the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Assam is known. It also hopes the BJP government in Karnataka will get mired even deeper in corruption scandals. This would then ensure that mid-term elections do not take place even if the government bungles along for the rest of its term.