It wasn’t Andimuthu Raja’s decision alone. The Prime Minister and the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram were co-architects of the 2G licence-cum-spectrum allocation.
This, in essence, is the submission of Norwegian telecom company Telenor whose 2G licences were cancelled by the Supreme Court on 2 February due to Raja’s alleged hijacking of the policy. Telenor, which is the joint venture partner with Unitech in Uninor, has filed a review petition in the top court seeking a restoration of its licences using this argument.
A report in The Economic Times says Uninor has filed documents to prove that the PM, Chidambaram and Raja were on the same page while approving the 2G licences. Uninor relies on the same documents used by Subramanian Swamy to demand a probe into Chidambaram’s role with Special CBI Judge OP Saini – a case Swamy lost. Swamy is now challenging the Saini verdict in the higher courts.
The Uninor review petition has huge implications for the probe and prosecution of the guilty in the 2G spectrum scam. It has important political and legal ramifications for Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram, and the future of the UPA. It can also up-end the various arguments used by courts to exonerate the PM and former FM of linkages to the 2G scam.
Depending on how the Supreme Court handles theses petitions – Uninor’s and Swamy’s – the Central Bureau of Investigation’s case against Raja itself would be impacted.
As Firstpost reported earlier, in the case against Chidambaram, Judge Saini effectively confirmed Chidambaram and Raja were party “to the decision to fix spectrum prices at 2001 levels and they allowed Swan Telecom and Unitech Wireless to offload equity to foreign partners without rolling out services.”
The reason why the judge let Chidambaram off is interesting. He said: “ “In the end, Mr P Chidambaram was party to only two decisions, that is, keeping the spectrum prices at 2001 level and dilution of equity by the two companies. These two acts are not per se criminal. In the absence of any other incriminating act on his part, it cannot be said that he was prima facie party to the criminal conspiracy.”
This strengthens not only Uninor’s case, but also Raja’s – that his was not a criminal act, and if it was, both the PM and Chidambaram were party to it.
The other reason relates to two judgments delivered by the Supreme Court in the 2G case. In one case, the court held that the PM’s Office failed to advise the PM correctly on Subramanian Swamy’s request to prosecute Raja. In fact, curiously, the court went out of its way to give Manmohan Singh a clean chit and put the blame for delaying Swamy’s request for months on end on the PMO.
It observed with unfathomable logic: “Unfortunately, those who were expected to give proper advice to Respondent No 1 (the PM) and place the full facts and legal position before him, failed to do so. We have no doubt that if Respondent No 1 had been apprised of the true factual and legal position regarding the representation made by the appellant (Subramanian Swamy), he would surely have taken appropriate decision and would not have allowed the matter to linger for a period of more than one year.”
This observation lets the PM off the hook while nailing his office. Interestingly, the government has now moved the Supreme Court seeking a clean chit for the PMO.
So, if the PMO did not give bad advice, and the clean chit given to the PM himself is based on the (unproven) hypothesis that he did not know the gravity of Swamy’s charge against Raja, where does that leave us?
Quite clearly, we are in illogical territory. In the judgment of 2 February, when licences were cancelled by a bench comprising Justice AK Ganguly and Justice GS Singhvi, the Supreme Court took the opposite line: that the PM knew, but his advice was ignored by Raja.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta noted in The Indian Express last month: “The court indicts A Raja for not following the PM’s advice. But it does not follow through on the implication of its own reasoning. In this instance, the PM and the EGoM (empowered group of ministers) knew exactly that a wrong policy was being pursued and did not act on it. So much for the assurance that the prime minister would without a doubt have acted if only he knew….In the first judgment, the PM is exonerated because he did not know, but would have acted if he had known. In the second, he knew but merely urged Raja to do something else. His knowledge, which should have signalled at least that he was capable of failing to act, is used as evidence for exoneration.”
The Uninor review petition is likely to throw the 2G case wide open – with the role of the PM and his former FM coming into question again. The court will also have to sort out the contradictions in various judgments and their reasoning.
If the Supreme Court accepts the logic that both PM and Chidambaram were in the know, it would have to indirectly acknowledge their role in Raja’s scam. If it decides that there was nothing wrong in the PM’s and Chidambaram’s actions (or inactions), Raja can well use it to ask why is he the only one in jail?
To be sure, Uninor is only saying that since the PM and Chidambaram were backing Raja’s policy, it could not have been a scam. The problem is, if the court accepts this view, there may be no 2G scam, and the whole thing can boil down to a few technical violations about Raja arbitrarily changing cutoff dates under the first-cum-first-served policy, allegedly to favour some parties. But even in this case, the PM and Chidambaram will face an indirect censure for failing to stop a wrongdoing.
All bets are now off. But there is no doubt the Uninor move has pointed the gun back in the direction of the PM and Chidambaram.
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Updated Date: Mar 24, 2012 11:22:31 IST