Coalgate: logic of naming KM Birla is to tar system and maybe save PM

The naming of business doyen Kumar Mangalam Birla in a first information report (FIR) relating to the coal blocks allocation scam confirms the suspicion that the Congress is working towards a clean scuttling of the Central Bureau of Investigation's probe.

If the CBI is going to go after every businessman, every politician, every bureaucrat, never mind the quality of the evidence against them, it will end up creating such a mess that no one will want it solved.

There is no other logic for including somebody so far above in the food chain in what could, at worst, be a decision taken at much lower levels to push the Birla group's case for a coal block allocation. The group has pointed out that a request for the Talabira - II block was first made in 1996 (by Indal, which was subsequently taken over by the Birlas' Hindalco). Hindalco finally got it after nine years in 2005.

The only bonafide reason for including Birla's name could be the extraordinary one of "command responsibility" - which means the top man is directly responsible for the mistakes or wrongs done by someone far lower down. But if this is the logic, it is surprising why the man at the centre of the scam - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - has been left out in the naming ceremonies.

Consider:

- The bulk of the coal blocks were allocated when the Prime Minister was himself the coal minister.

- The coal blocks were, as indicated in the Comptroller and Auditor General's (CAG's) report, allocated by an opaque process even though the Prime Minister claimed to be championing the case for auctions and more transparent procedures. But he did nothing to implement what he initially believed. He allowed the loot to continue unhindered.

- The coal secretary who earlier championed the cause of auctions (PC Parakh) has been named in the FIR, but not the PM. The CAG had, on the other hand, considered Parakh a whistleblower, says The Indian Express. What kind of justice is it if whistleblowers are named in FIRs, but the man who slept through it all is given some kind of honesty certificate by everyone? Parakh is obviously screaming at the injustice of it all.

The CBI went out of its way to show the PMO what it was telling the Supreme Court about its investigations into the Coalgate scam - something which the court labelled as "breach of trust." If the PM had nothing to hide, why this inordinate interest in what the CBI was doing?

The Prime Minister has gone out of his way to shoot the messenger. In parliament, Manmohan Singh - and later his whole party - went hammer and tongs at the CAG for its report on the coal scam. This reeks of a guilty conscience rather than an attempt to accept responsibility for what went wrong.

This is the background in which the insertion of Birla's name in the FIR must be seen.

 Coalgate: logic of naming KM Birla is to tar system and maybe save PM

The only real purpose served by naming Birla is to ensure that every big name is seen as guilty in the public eye - which means that ultimately all have to go scot-free.

The only real purpose served by naming him is to ensure that every big name is seen as guilty in the public eye - which means that ultimately all have to go scot-free. Between 2G and Coalgate, many major businessmen - Tatas, Ambanis, Jindals, Sunil Mittal - have got their names bandied about. If so many blue-blooded people are seen as guilty, it would be easy to hang all the guilt on the system and the CAG - and the politicians who enabled all the skullduggery can claim to be victims instead of co-conspirators. If everyone can be smeared with the same brush, everyone has to be let off to keep the system going. This is the logic that appears to be prompting the inclusion of Birla's name in the FIR.

This is not to suggest businessmen must never be called to account for their misdeeds, but the evidence has to be built up properly.

The mundane truth is simple: if anyone is guilty of irresponsibility and breach of public trust in the coal block misallocations, it is the Prime Minister and his office.

But maintaining the credibility of the Prime Minister has meant that everyone has to sing hosannas to Manmohan Singh's "honesty" and integrity. From Sonia Gandhi down to the last member in the party, everyone has been doing precisely that. Indicting the Prime Minister for his lapses means the Congress president herself will lose face. Everyone has used the PM's alleged honesty as a cover for their own dark deeds - and the PM's guilt is simply that he has acquiesced in this.

This is precisely the reason why PC Chacko, chairman of the Joint Parliamentary Committee probing the 2G scam, never allowed the PM to even give evidence before the committee. For fear of what A Raja might say, Chacko did not let Raja depose before the committee even though he was more than game. The JPC is now about to give the PM a "clean chit".

The bottomline is probably this: to save the PM, it has become necessary to implicate the entire system. If all big names are tarred with the same brush, Manmohan Singh will appear less tarred. He can pretend he, too, is a victim of the system.

Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 23:29:36 IST