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CAG vs Cong: A self-goal by Manish Tewari

by R Jagannathan  Nov 8, 2012 14:35 IST

#Foot In Mouth   #Manish Tewari   #Vinod Rai  

This is the season for self-goals. We had Nitin Gadkari (on Swami Vivekananda, among other things), Robert Vadra (on Mango men), Salman Khurshid (threats to Arvind Kejriwal), P Chidambaram ("We will walk alone", after RBI failed to cut rates), and Narendra Modi's reference to "Rs 50 crore girlfriends". And so on.

Now we can add Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari to the list. His churlish response to Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Vinod Rai comments about the “brazenness” with which government decisions were being taken ended up proving the latter’s point.

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) conclave in Delhi, Rai said yesterday: “The brazenness (with which) decisions were being taken is absolutely appalling...". And, in the context of the openness being forced on the executive by the Right to Information Act, he added, “"....each one of us will be held accountable, we are conscious of that," The Indian Express quoted him as saying.

Did the minister really need to take on the CAG? PTI

To which our Congress worthy replied in typical combative style: “…If he (Vinod Rai) talks about brazenness in decision-making and it refers to the time period of this particular government, I think it would be worth its while to recall that he (Rai) was part of the same government from 2004 to 2008. So, I guess that when he talks about brazenness, that paradigm equally applies across the board to everybody who is a part of the government.” Or so the DNA quoted him as saying.

Four quick points need to be made.

First, one wonders why an I&B Minister who is not the party’s official spokesman anymore, felt the need to respond to a broader point made by the CAG at a public forum without making specific references to this government or that.

Second, one wonders why Tewari thinks Rai was part of the government only from 2004-08. He still is, as his six-year term as CAG ends only in 2014. Rai became CAG only in 2008 – which is the period following the one that Tewari was referring to. Unless Tewari was trying to say that before Rai became CAG, he was part of government, and hence must have been equally a part of the brazenness. If that is the case, Tewari should have the cojones to point out Vinod Rai’s acts of brazenness when he was not CAG.

Third, the reference to 2004-08 also seems to point to a guilty conscience. We know that the bulk of the scams – 2G, CWG and Coalgate – happened during UPA-1, even though they got exposed only in UPA-2. His reference to that period indicates that the Congress is aware that it had goofed up badly on governance in the way it handled A Raja, Suresh Kalmadi, Dayanidhi Maran and the coal block allocations – the last being made right under Manmohan Singh’s nose.

Fourth, if the couched reference to brazenness referred to Rai’s estimates of losses in the 2G and Coalgate scams - Rs 1,76,000 crore due to 2G, and another Rs 1,86,000 crore on Coalgate - then the joke is on Tewari. The estimates of loss are surely debatable – as Rai himself conceded – but the pointer to wrongdoing and whimsical decision-making processes in government are clearly the main point of the CAG’s reports.

The brazen acts are clear.

Raja brazenly took his own decision on 2G allocations, even defying the Prime Minister on it.

The coal ministry under the PM brazenly failed to auction coal blocks despite mulling over it for year. It finally gave them away through a non-transparent process for free.

The brazenness of Kalmadi, who did his own thing at the Commonwealth Games, is too apparent for all to see.

The brazenness with which ministers in the government rushed to give clean chits to Robert Vadra over his land leads with DLF and others is equally apparent.

The brazenness with which Sonia Gandhi and her son took over Associated Journals with a Rs 90 crore loan from the Congress party is equally unique.

We can certainly balance the picture by talking about the brazenness of Nitin Gadkari’s actions or that of BS Yeddyurappa in Karnataka – to each his own scam -  but they are not the ones criticising the CAG.

Manish Tewari scored a self-goal by his needless criticism of the CAG. In today’s political climate, the CAG has credibility, Tewari’s party doesn’t. That is the problem he needs to address.

By attacking the CAG, he has shifted attention back to the UPA's scams - when the focus had temporarily shifted to Gadkari and the BJP's internal power struggles.