2G spectrum verdict: Was Manmohan Singh morally culpable? Sanjaya Baru's book may offer some clues

New Delhi: Former prime minister Manmohan Singh was quick to play the victim after a CBI trial court acquitted A Raja and Kanimozhi among others. The court said the investigation agencies had failed miserably to prove any criminality against the accused. Singh, as indeed the rest of the Congress party, jumped on to this to exonerate themselves of wrongdoing, although they aren't named as accused in the case. The former PM's claim does not hold water for many reasons which will be explained later. But let’s first consider what he told TV channels:

And former telecom minister Kapil Sibal termed the court’s verdict a moral victory for the Congress party.

But not many saw absence of moral culpability for Singh and his Cabinet. Sanjaya Baru, media advisor to Manmihan Singh in UPA-I, claims he was the first such official to write an account of his years working in the Prime Minister’s Office. In his book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, Baru talks of active morality that Singh practiced for himself and passive morality that he kept for colleagues. This extract seems more pertinent today as Singh is seen to be morally culpable of the alleged spectrum scam.

 2G spectrum verdict: Was Manmohan Singh morally culpable? Sanjaya Barus book may offer some clues

File image of Manmohan Singh. PTI

Baru says in the book “Dr Singh’s general attitude towards corruption in public life, which he adopted through his career in government, seemed to me to be that he would himself maintain the highest standards of probity in public life, but would not impose this on others. In other words, he was himself incorruptible, and also ensured no one in his immediate family ever did wrong, but he did not feel answerable for the misdemeanours of his colleagues and subordinates. In this instance (reference to 2G scam), he felt even less because he was not the political authority that had appointed them to those ministerial positions. In practice, this meant that he turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of his ministers. He expected the Congress party leadership to deal with the black sheep in his government, just as he expected the allies to deal with their black sheep. While his conscience was always clear with respect to his own conduct, he believed everyone had to deal with their own conscience.”

“When a colleague got caught, as the DMK Minister Raja finally was, he let the law take its course.... Dr Singh’s approach was a combination of active morality for himself and passive morality with respect to others.”

So if the allegations of a scam were just propaganda, why did the Supreme Court cancel all the 2G licences and order fresh auctions? There are reports of Raja allegedly negotiating his ministry with a high-profile corporate lobbyist before he landed the juicy communications portfolio. There are also reports about an editors’ meet that Manmohan Singh conducted as PM, where he allegedly accepted his hand was being forced by “coalition compulsions”.

Baru’s book also talks of how the DMK became a coalition partner in UPA-I in the first place, with him further saying that Manmohan Singh was in fact the architect of this alliance.

“Initially, Karunanidhi’s nephew, and the UPA Government’s telecom minister, Dayanidhi Maran, was the key interlocutor between Dr Singh and the DMK leader in Chennai. Maran’s stars plummeted when he got involved in the DMK’s fratricidal wars.... On May 11, 2007, Dr Singh and Sonia went to Chennai to participate in a public meeting.... At the venue itself, Karunanidhi informed them that henceforth A Raja would be his key representative in Delhi. That same night, Dr Singh returned from Chennai and implemented Karunanidhi’s request that the telecommunications portfolio be shifted from Dayanidhi to A Raja. On 13 May, Raja took charge of telecom and, within months, became embroiled in the allegedly corrupt sale of telecommunications bandwidth to certain companies, popularly known as the 2G scandal”.

So why did the media or the Opposition sniff a scam during UPA-I tenure? Baru goes on to say that in UPA-I, public opinion did not turn against the PM for “this moral ambivalence on his part because the issue had not been prised out into the open. The media focus in his first term was very much on his policy initiatives. But in UPA-II when corruption scandals tumbled out, his public image and standing took a huge hit from which he was unable to recover because there was no parallel policy narrative in play that could salvage his reputation. In other words, there were no positive acts of commission that captured the public mind enough to compensate for the negative acts of omission for which he was being chastised. As his reputation fell, so did that of his government.”

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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2017 14:10:41 IST