Prime Minister David Cameron had to go before British Parliament and render an abject apology – for his error of judgment in hiring as his communication chief in 2007 Andy Coulson, a former Editor of the News of The World, who has now been arrested for his culpability in the notorious phone hacking scam.
It is not that anyone suspects that Cameron was even remotely involved in any way with the sleazy newsgathering practices of NOTW. The question hanging over his head was merely this: did he know about Coulson’s doings when he hired him?
Cameron is not out of the woods yet, as not everyone is satisfied with his explanations. But you don’t find anyone saying in Britain, as they do of Manmohan Singh here, that the prime minister is an utterly honest man and is of unimpeachable integrity. That he is expected to be, but he is also expected to take responsibility for the people he appoints, for what they do in his name, and as in this case of a ‘bad apple’, for even his knowledge of their past. Questions are being raised now whether he was aware that he was appointing a person of a dubious background.
Here we have our own Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who allowed two successive cabinet ministers appointed by him, Dayanidhi Maran and A.Raja, to play fast and loose with telecom licensing policy and to brazenly loot the public exchequer, while he looked on indulgently in the name of ‘coalition dharma’ (sic).
First, Maran overawed the prime minister and insisted that decisions on spectrum allocation should be made by him alone; and the PM succumbed, despite a Cabinet decision that, in view of the huge financial implications, spectrum allocation should be under the purview of a Group of Ministers.
This opened the floodgates to the 2G scams that followed – first, Maran’s Aircel-Maxis-Sun TV deal, and then Raja’s scams involving Swan, Unitech and Kalaignar TV. All this took place under the blazing light of day, with the press reporting the goings-on in real time over a two to three-year period. Raja got full cooperation from the PMO in shifting out senior bureaucrats who would not do his bidding and getting cooperative ones in their place. When the finance minister and finance secretary made noises about the need to go in for auctions of the spectrum or, in the alternative, at least for an increase in the entry fee, Raja was able to shout them down. And when the law ministry said the matter should go to an EGOM (empowered government of ministers) he coolly referred the matter to the then Solicitor General Goolam Vahanvati and was able to ‘arrange’ an opinion from the high law officer that everything was hunky dory.
All this happened under the benign and indulgent gaze of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he of impeccable honesty and unimpeachable integrity. Only, when things were really getting out of hand, a PMO official wrote to Raja, as it now transpires, pleading that his actions may be unofficially shared with the PM, but not to put things in writing as the PM wants to keep at an arm’s length distance!
However, the clever operator that he was, Raja continued to put everything in writing and sharing all information with the PM, thus denying the PM and the then finance minister P. Chidambaram the ‘plausible deniability’ that they evidently desired.
The record is damning concerning the full knowledge of the PM about the scam, even as it was being perpetrated; and the PM himself and his mouthpiece Kapil Sibal were defending it all till it became untenable and Raja had to be arrested.
In the Commonwealth Games Scam again, Suresh Kalmadi’s shenanigans happened under public gaze. When it all became too brazen, the PMO actually sent its own official to take over as secretary general of the Organizing Committee, and also took direct control of most of the budget. Thus, Kalmadi is right, to a great extent, when he complains that he has been made a scapegoat, when Shiela Dikshit and Jaipal Reddy who spent most of the money and who have come under strictures by the Shunglu committee are being protected by the Government.
The worst, and the most shocking of all, is of course the cash-for-votes scam case that stands revived now thanks to apex court intervention. The Congress party’s brazen operation to buy off opposition MPs was exposed by a BJP sting operation, and it was independently corroborated by Wikileaks cables which quote Congress party officials boasting about the operation even as it was on to an American diplomat. With this, Manmohan Singh joins his former boss P.V. Narasimha Rao in the dubious distinction of being the only two prime ministers whose governments survived no-confidence motions by the bribing of opposition MPs. The lame defence that Manmohan Singh offered for this was that whatever might have happened was not ordered by him!
When the Parliament convenes for the monsoon session on Monday August 1, the Opposition must do its duty by holding the Prime Minister accountable and demanding answers from him. The Watergate scandal, an innocuous operation compared to our 2G, CWG and cash-for-votes scams, but for which President Richard Nixon had to pay the ultimate price of resigning in order to avoid impeachment, turned ultimately on two questions concerning the culpability of the president for criminal acts being committed by people working under him: What did he know, and when did he know it?
These are precisely the questions Manmohan Singh must answer. The nation demands honest answers from our ‘honest’ prime minister.