2G scam interview: Manmohan Singh betrayed me, shed tears of regret on my acquittal, says A Raja
Raja agreed to a full interview, the excerpts of which are reproduced here.
Former telecom minister A Raja has had just over a month to gather and organise his thoughts about the 2G scam that saw his fall, and eventual acquittal. Since then he has, on various occasions, talked about his role in what was easily one of the most sensational corruption scandals which rocked the nation in the last two decades, and which provided the BJP with sufficient ammunition to unseat the ruling UPA, in 2014.
There is only one source that offers a comprehensive look at his experiences and impressions about the inner workings of spectrum allocation to cellular phone operators during former prime minister Manmohan Singh's tenure - Raja's tell-all book on the scam — 2G Saga Unfolds. Other than this, there are just the few interviews and excerpts from the book that offer any sense of his role in the scandal. Firstpost pressed the former telecom minister to speak at length about the scam, his impressions of the investigation and indictment, and, most critically, the part played by Manmohan Singh in the goings on. Raja agreed to a full interview, the excerpts of which are reproduced here.
Firstpost: What made you write this book?
A Raja: I was not given natural justice. I was not heard by Parliament or by the Supreme Court or by the media. Even statutory institution like Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) did not understand the case. To get natural justice, the only way left for me was to go to the people. It was only through a book that I could get my voice heard.
FP: You presented the first copy of the book to former prime minister Manmohan Singh. What was his reaction?
Raja: He became emotional. He broke down and started crying. He expressed his deepest regrets and said yes, something should have been done (to help me).
FP: In retrospect, do you feel a sense of betrayal by Manmohan? Do you feel that he had always wished to remain at arm's length from this entire episode?
Raja: Yes, I feel I was betrayed by Manmohan Singh. I was dropped from the Cabinet. I was not protected. They (prime minister's council of ministers) felt something was wrong with my actions but they did not check. They did not call for the files.
The evidence of 80 percent of the witnesses was recorded after they put me in jail. Who will be expected to depose in my favour? I was arrested in February 2011 — who will be expected to depose properly after that. This is my deep anguish, it's my deep grievance.
FP: Do you feel the former prime minister was deliberately kept in the dark about the whole issue?
Raja: I had narrated everything to the prime minister (Manmohan). He was kept in the dark about spectrum. I wrote a letter dated 2 November, 2007 to the prime minister to give him all the details of what I had done on the entire 2G licensing and spectrum. But on the same day I received a letter from the Prime Minister's Office, whose contents were the same as had been made by the Cellular Operators Association of India. How come the text of the annexure of the prime minister's letter is exactly the same text as the plea taken by the COAI in the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal and to the ministry?
FP: The prime minister was not supported by these ministers?
Raja: The Cabinet did not support him properly. The Cabinet and senior officers did not support him. When I met Kapil Sibal, he admitted there was division in the Cabinet on this issue.
FP: Manmohan Sing also did not have the support of his own officers in the PMO?
Raja: The prime minister was transparent but he was misguided by media reports. TK Nair came to my bungalow twice to meet me but the prime minister did not know about it. There were surreptious acts in the PMO but prime minister had all the intelligence agencies. He should have been informed about all that was going on. My reading is that they believed that matter would rest with A Raja. That is the biggest administrative joke. They believed if A Raja resigns, everything will be taken care of. The bullet will stop with Raja.
I warned the government that this will kill UPA-II. My leader(Karunanidhi) told this directly to the prime minister. I conveyed this to (TR) Balu. Their assumptions were completely wrong.
FP: Why did the former home minister P Chidambaram avoid meeting you when you crossed each other at the airport? Was this decision by him linked to the fact that you were rivals from the same state?
Raja: I cannot comment on that even though I can draw my own inferences.
FP: Were you supported through this entire controversy by your leader Karunanidhi?
Raja: My leader and party supported me like a child in its womb.
FP: In your book you also claim former solicitor general GE Vahanvati gave false testimony against you before the CBI?
Raja: Vahanvati agreed on the file. His concurrence was there. For reasons best known to him, he later disowned it.
On advise of (prime minister) Manmohan (Singh) in December 2007, Pranab Mukherjee had chaired a meeting. This was attended by me, Vahanvati and Pranab in his chambers. The CBI said no such meeting took place because Vahanvati, during his deposition before the police said so. But the minutes of the meeting are there. Was it not the duty of the CBI to question Pranab Mukherjee? I was in jail. Vahanvati said there was no such meeting but why didn't Pranab speak out?
FP: But the thrust of your attack in your book is directed against former CAG chief Vinod Rai? You have called for an inquiry against Rai. He made three specific charges against you. The first that you did not follow the procedures which had been laid down. Second, that you shifted the timelines and the third was regarding the computation of the loss. Your book has responded to all three charges. Will you care to elaborate?
Raja: What is the word, notional loss. He is claiming Rs 1.76 lakh crore. What is his yardstick? You cannot advise government to change policy. Policy is decided by the Cabinet in Parliament. Rai thought he was above all institutions. You are not a technical man. Without any comparisons, no logic, he arrived at this figure. This is nothing but administrative terrorism under a Constitutional label.
Since he gets shelter under constitutional protection of Article 148 and 149, at least, a commission of inquiry should be instituted against him. His figure did not stand before court, CBI did not accept it, even the superintendent of police in the CBI did not accept his version, even the judge did not agree with his version. Is that not a slap on Rai's cheek?
FP: Your book states that under Rai, the sanctity of CAG was severely compromised. How did his vigilantism sacrifice national progress?
Raja: I did not unilaterally decide to change the timeline for the 575 application. Documents are now available to show that initially I was opposed to it; that Secretary DS Mathur decided collectively, must have cut off date on the basis of how much spectrum is available. I have proved it in my book that what I did was correct but Rai said I had bulldozed officers.
My reading is that there was a political conspiracy to finish off the UPA-II and the gun was shouldered by Vinod Rai. The needle of suspicion points to him and we should go to the roots of his appointment.
I seek a commission of inquiry. How did Rai arrive at this conclusion? There was an exit conference on 20 May, 2010 attended by DOT and CAG officials. It showed that there was no loss. The audit team sat with DOT officers, came to conclusion on first come first policy, dual technology and eligibility of applications. And yet suddenly we hear about this astronomical figure. How did Rai give this report? It is unfair, it is capricious, we have to read between the lines. Even RP Singh, deputy CAG, did not sign the final report.
There was a big conspiracy to kill UPA, to tarnish its image and this can be easily inferred.
This Modi government is supposed to be clean. Modi keeps saying we are clean, clean, clean. The 2G is a big scam by the Congress, it should be investigated.
FP: What has been the response to your demand for commission of inquiry?
Raja: Nobody is opening their mouth. Rai is quiet. The moment he released the report to Parliament (when he was the CAG) he held a press meet and came forward with his lies. Since I proved his report wrong, he has not opened his mouth. What type of man are you? It shows his credibility?
I offered himself to he CBI; I released this book; I issued an open challenge (to him) because truth is on my side.
FP: You have paid a big price?
Raja: I paid a huge price. My family suffered a lot. My daughter was in Class VI, what type of anguish she went through, just imagine? Think about the attitude of her friends? The same goes for my wife. My brothers and sisters also suffered. Their homes were searched by Enforcement Directorate and CBI. But truth was always on my side.
FP: But Rai's version was supported by the Supreme Court?
Raja: The 2G matter is a complicated and very technical matter. We need legal acumen to understand the issue.
We shifted 1994 telecom policy, we shifted from action route to revenue route. The shift was done by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. At that time also, there was a lot of criticism by the public. Lawyer Ram Jethmalani, who was also an Union minister in the Vajpayee government, also wrote a book on this. The CAG report of 2002 said there was a Rs 3,000 crore scam. This report was not considered in PAC. The policy was made by the BJP but was criticised by their own minister Ram Jethmalani. Today, the same BJP said that there is a big spectrum scam. We have taken the legacy of the past. With due respect to Supreme Court judges, they hurriedly passed orders without proper assessment of law.
FP: Do you think cancelling of licenses deal a serious blow to the telecom industry?
Raja: After arrest of coal secretary, senior officers were not able to take bold decisions because of criminal cases launched against them. During UPA regime, thousands of crores of foreign investment started coming into country. After the Coalgate scam, 2G cancellation, FDI stopped coming. The administration is not able to deliever. Everyone is keeping mum. What is the progress? If water keeps flowing, there is progress. When there is stagnant water, no one will touch it.
What is your GDP now? This government is not able to recognise diversity, how then will it then run this multi-cultural, diverse country?
FP: In your book you explain that shifting the timelines was that your officers wanted a cut-off date because all 575 applications could not be accommodated. Could you explain?
Raja: When we gave a unified access license, like the driving license, the operator could use other technologies also. The TRAI recommendation was to permit dual technology and I accepted their recommendation.
If new technologies come, we have to accept it. The reply was sent to CAG. Inspite of black-and-white on table, what made Rai shift blame to me? Parliament enacted a law. This was a collective decision. In the trial court Saini has shown there was no criminality.
FP: How long did it take for you to write this book?
Raja: Two and a half years. I collected the documents when I was in jail. I relied on my memory and my memory matched the documents available from the court. That was an amazing coincidence.
FP: Despite the CBI special court verdict, the CBI has already stated it will appeal in higher court. This is something that members of the legal fraternity, including Subramanian Swamy, have also called for.
Raja: Either of the aggrieved parties is entitled to go for appeal. My point is that no one has criticised the judgment by fact and law. No person is available with legal and political arguments to challenge this; going in for appeal is taking shelter under legal provisions. I have given an open challenge, let us have a live debate on this but nobody has come forward.
FP: Senior officials in the office of then prime minister Manmohan Singh are reported to have suppressed the most relevant and controversial part of your letter to Manmohan Singh and that you cannot be faulted for misrepresenting the facts. Why were they doing so ?
Raja: Everyone can draw their own inferences. I was not running the PMO. All I will say is that these matters need to be investigated.
FP: What are your plans now?
Raja: I will return to active politics.
FP: Is DMK planning a tie-up with the BJP?
Raja: Karunanidhi has said that there will be no tie up wih BJP. DMK is known for secularism. Secularism is in trouble. Now, the role of the DMK is bound to intensify.
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