Indian Parliament’s winter session is facing a deadlock with the opposition parties demanding setting up of a Joint Parliament Committee (JPC) for probing the Rs. 1.76 lakh crore ($39 billion) corruption scandal of the former Telecom minister A Raja. The government has been mired in series of scandals this year, such as corruption in Commonwealth Games arrangements, as a result of which three top officials have already been suspended.
The telecom scandal has occupied headlines with the revelation of the government watchdog Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its report that the licenses for 2G spectrum were allotted at cheapest costs for a chosen set of companies. CAG has implicated the former Telecom minister A Raja, who resigned a week back for deliberately avoiding established procedures in sale of 2G spectrum to private companies.
The CAG report said the government has lost $39 billion because of not auctioning 2G spectrum licenses. Instead of going for auctions, the minister sold the spectrum licenses on first-come-first basis. CAG alleged that the minister took interest in particular companies. He did not give much time to other companies to place their applications, CAG said. The minister did not even listen to the Prime Minister’s suggestion that he should go for auctioning spectrum licenses as per the CAG report.
Reprimanding Prime Minister
As if that is not enough, the Supreme Court has reprimanded the Prime Minister for not taking action for 16 months on permission sought after by a lawyer through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to prosecute the minister. The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is considered Mr Clean among Indian politicians. A bureaucrat turned politician, Manmohan worked as finance minister in the Congress government from 1991-96, and introduced globalization policies for Indian economy. He is the most-sought politician by the western countries that have been pushing India to open up its economy for foreign multinational companies.
Mr Singh was supposedly chosen as the Prime Minister by the US and other western governments for the Congress coalition government that came to power in 1999, defeating the then BJP-led coalition government. He was brought in as an alternative to Sonia Gandhi, who declined to take the reins of the government as she faced criticism over her non-Indian origins from the opposition parties and within the Congress party itself.
Congress ranks consider it still as sacrifice, but the others consider it simply a ploy to bring in the US-friendly Manmohan Singh. Congress came to power second time consecutively in 2004 partly using Mr Clean image of Manmohan Singh. The Congress party is worried that such an image is getting tarnished as a result of the 2G spectrum scandal.
An affidavit is submitted by a representative of the Prime Minister saying that he did not remain inactive for all this time, but followed procedures. The affidavit said that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was looking into the matter and that he was waiting for the report from the CBI.
Interestingly, the lawyer Subramanian Swami, the president of a one-man ‘Janata Party’, has responded positively to the affidavit submitted by the Prime Minister, saying that he was satisfied with the response. He is the person who has been actively and relentlessly pursing the scandal case. His immediate expression of satisfaction with a single affidavit explains that he is not ready to pursue the case any more.
The PIL, which prompted the Supreme Court to reprimand the Prime Minister for remaining inactive for 16 months on a scandal of his ministerial colleague, is now likely to be dropped slowly, given the history of the lawyer. Congress party might have succeeded in convincing him to drop the case in some or other way. It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court is going to take the affidavit by the Indian PM.
The opposition parties including the so-called left parties, have been stalling the proceedings of the lower and upper houses since the winter session began two weeks ago. They are demanding action on the former Telecom minister and constitution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the issue. The first demand has become void as the minister has resigned with increasing political pressures from the opposition parties. He is from a regional party, DMK of Tamil Nadu state, which is one of the partners of the ruling coalition government. As the other regional party from the same state AIADMK has offered support to the government in case of DMK’s withdrawal of support to the central government, the Congress party has gained guts to ask the minister to resign.
Now the opposition parties have concentrated on the second demand, for the constitution of a JPC to probe into the scandal. A JPC has to be formed with representatives from all the parliamentary parties. There are several examples where the JPCs could do nothing in identifying, convicting and punishing the guilty. At the most, they can only guarantee a share of the cake to all parliamentary parties, but nothing else. It is just a fight for the share of the cake. All these ruling parliamentary parties are a bunch of brokerage firms in the name of political parties that derive voters’ support to share the government contracts. They are not for the people, by the people and to the people but for the contractors, by the contractors and to the contractors.
Reforms in Peril
Meanwhile private companies at home and abroad are worried that the reform bills supposed to get nod in the winter session of the parliament are in peril due to continuous agitation of the opposition parties. A banking laws amendment bill, which would improve the capital-raising capacity of banks and strengthen the regulatory powers of the central bank, is supposed to come up for passage in the winter session. A bill to share the profits from mining to displaced people is also at stake.
The second bill is aimed to clear obstacles for private and multinational mining companies that have come under fierce criticism for bringing harm to the environment and throwing the lives of the tribal people living in forests into danger. South Korea’s POSCO steel factory in Orissa state has been stopped by the environment ministry due to strong opposition from local communities. In the name of sharing profits with local communities, the bill is poised to destroy the forests and forest-dwelling tribal people even as the discussions to curtail the global warming are going on at international level.
The leader of the ruling coalition government, the Congress parliamentary party, has called for a meeting with the opposition parties on Monday to discuss the situation. The parties are likely to come to an agreement to get the above two bills passed somehow.