Before railing against Narendra Modi, will Manmohan Singh take onus for 2g and coal blocks scam?

The former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has taunted and challenged the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi to own up man-like that demonetisation was a blunder. This is bound to raise the hackles of those who followed his rule or non-rule for 10 years from 2004 to 2014. The monumental 2G and coal blocks scams happened under his watch despite his innocent protestations to the contrary.

A charitable explanation for his indifference to what was happening right under his nose was he had coalition compulsions---euphemism for corruption, to go on unchecked to keep the rapacious coalition partners financially sated by plundering the country and taxpayers’ resources or starving the nation’s coffers of revenue that were due to it.

Coalition compulsions or the more lofty euphemism coalition dharma, the fact is Manmohan Singh has to live down the severe strictures tacitly passed against him by the country’s highest judicial body, the Supreme Court, when it in quick succession annulled the 2G telecom licenses and the opaque coal block allotments in the winter of 2014.

These cancellations were a slap on his wrists for looking the other side when he should have intervened decisively to guard national interests instead of keeping his political masters and partners happy. That he was not punished by law for his monumental indifference has got more to do with our weak laws which while coming down heavily on criminal misconducts, leave governmental excesses or indifference severely alone.

File image of Manmohan Singh. PTI

File image of Manmohan Singh. PTI

To be sure, he has not been arraigned before the court which is all set to announce its verdict in the 2G criminal matter in which by and large the DMK first family and its hangers on are in the dock. Fair enough, because he was not caught with his hands in the till though he clearly facilitated the loot with his pliable behavior bordering on complicity.

It is entirely possible that the criminal case may fall flat for lack of evidence given the fact criminal law is more demanding on evidence to nail an accused. But the outcome of the criminal case has nothing to do with the UPA government’s conduct or misconduct---it has been roundly punished by the electorate in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and in the public eye Manmohan Singh stands condemned for his passivity and complicity.

First come first served (FCFS) may be a good policy when poor are being fed or charity is being doled out. Not when the nation’s resources are being allotted. That however is what had happened in the 2G licenses allotment.

The telecom minister A Raja of DMK orchestrated the whole thing with a thinly guised game plan---announce the deadline for submitting bids to his close friends who bid their way successfully to precious licenses with minimum financial outgo on the back of inside information.

To wit, let us say a circle was allotted on the basis of the opaque FCFS policy say at the rate of Rs 1700 crore which was later on sold to a telecom company for Rs 10,000 crore post-haste. The resultant loss to the exchequer was Rs 8300 crore which in aggregate became a staggering Rs 1.76 lakh crore as per CAG which Kapil Sibal in the UPA ministry pooh-poohed as a fiction of imagination and smugly came up with a zero loss theory as riposte.

That non-serious players got the licenses for a song was amply proved by the subsequent events---many of the licenses were transferred to serious players mainly foreign telecom companies at a hefty premium. In other words, the money that should have gone to the exchequer went to private pockets! P. Chidambaram another stalwart in Manmohan Singh cabinet called this financial intelligence, touché!

Indeed had the license been allotted on the basis of competitive bidding as mandated by the Supreme Court later on for all natural resources, the government would have got in the above example Rs 10,000 crore per circle instead of just Rs 1,700 crore.

Coal allotment gratis was an even more blatant administrative lapse, and the CAG put the loss at Rs 1.86 crore the accuracy of which has been more than borne out by the results of the coal block auctions conducted after the SC cancellation of allotments.

Now coming to Narenda Modi’s demonetisation. It was marked neither by indifference nor by coalition compulsions. The decision was entirely driven by the noble motive to cleanse the Augustan stables. Sure the seminal and cataclysmic move has upset the economy especially the small traders but its long term effects are there for everyone to see except those with jaundiced eyes.

It was the same Manmohan Singh who last year brushed off the long term beneficial effects of demonetisation with the Keynesian facetious remark---in the long run we are all dead---despite knowing the money that was sloshing around in subterranean channels had now come aboard into the banking mainstream.

Updated Date: Nov 07, 2017 16:07 PM

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