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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Who was ‘real’ 2G elephant, asks Raja? Not me

The 2G scam will go down as the first “scam” which dealt the first body blow to the credibility of the UPA government headed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | Updated: December 22, 2017 12:01:10 pm
2G scam case, RK nagar bypoll, Telcom minister, A Raja, DMK leader, 2G elephant, 2G spectrum, 2G case verdict, Indian express news, A Raja insisted there was “no single deviation or departure” from the rules and procedures in all the decisions taken by the Telecom ministry. (Source: Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

Having examined hundreds of witnesses and marked more than ten thousand pages of documents as exhibits, over six and a half long years, the “real elephant” must now be identified and disclosed by This Hon’ble Court.

Those were the concluding remarks made by DMK leader and former Telecom minister A Raja to Special CBI Judge O P Saini. On April 25 as he made his final submission, Raja narrated a story about an elephant and four blind men.

“One touched the ear of the elephant and said the elephant was like a grain chaffer. Another touched the body and said it was like a wall. The third touched the trunk and said it was like a pillar. The fourth touched the tail to proclaim it to be like a rope,” Raja said.

“Similarly, the ‘2G elephant’ was touched by the CVC, CAG, JPC and CBI without proper understanding. On the basis of their own inference drawn by them, this case has been foisted against me,” Raja said, while taking a dig at the multiple agencies probing the scam.

Raja made this veiled argument to make his point that all the constitutional and statutory bodies – probing the irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum during his tenure — had had a “poor understanding” of the process followed by the Telecom ministry. He insisted there was “no single deviation or departure” from the rules and procedures in all the decisions taken by the Telecom ministry.

So when Special Judge OP Saini today acquitted Raja and 16 others of charges of criminal misconduct, criminal breach of trust, cheating and criminal conspiracy, he echoed Raja’s argument on “poor understanding” of spectrum allocation. Rapping the CBI, Saini, said that the chargesheet filed by India’s premier investigation agency is based mainly on “misreading, selective reading, non-reading and out of context reading of the official record”.

“I have absolutely no hesitation in holding that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove any charge against any accused, made in its well choreographed charge sheet,” Saini said.

The 2G scam will go down as the first “scam” which dealt the first body blow to the credibility of the UPA government headed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While the “scam” first came out in 2008, under the first UPA government, the arrests of those allegedly implicated as well as the trial took place in full glare of the second UPA government.

It will be remembered for “Rs 1.76 lakh crore” figure arrived at by then CAG Vinod Rai, who stated that 122 licenses had been issued to telecom operators at throwaway prices causing a “notional” loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the exchequer. TIME magazine even termed it the biggest instance of the abuse of executive power since Richard Nixon’s 1972 Watergate scandal.

But when the CBI filed the charge-sheet in April 2011, it reduced the “loss” from Rs 1.76 lakh crore to Rs 30,984 crore in the allocation of the licences. But throughout the trial, the CBI was unable to explain as to what the legally admissible evidence was to prove that, in fact, there had been such a loss to the government. And why the CBI’s inference was sufficient ground to convict the accused for criminal misconduct.

At the end of the trial, the CBI had more questions to answer. For instance, the CBI said Swan Telecom, allegedly a front company of Reliance Telecom and Unitech, conspired together to get the same licence – but the CBI was never able to answer why the competition would dissolve its rivalry to fight on the same side.

Moreover, what was A. Raja’s motive to help Unitech ? And what was the CBI’s evidence to prove its accusation that the Rs 200 crore transaction between DM- run Kalaignar TV and accused DB Group firm was the “bribe money” in the scam?

Could the CBI assume that just because Raja was a DMK leader, the investment made in Kalaignar TV – and that too, one and half years after the spectrum allocation — could be termed as bribe money?

At the end of the day, the CBI needed to demolish Raja’s defence, which was that he took the decisions he did in the public interest – from introducing new players to increasing teledensity and bringing down tariff. Raja insisted that there was no personal benefit to him or even to his extended family. But CBI failed to rubbish Raja’s claims.

The Apex court has already canceled all the 122 licences in the allocation of 2G spectrum.The CBI is likely to move the High Court in the matter. And when it does, the premier agency, as Raja put it, has to identify the “real elephant.” How it does, only the premier agency can answer. The ball is squarely in the CBI’s court.

Kaunain Sheriff works in the Indian Express in New Delhi and tweets @kaunain_s 

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