PM breaks silence on scams
New Delhi, February 16
In a 70-minute televised media interaction with editors of TV news channels organised at his residence this morning, the Prime Minister exonerated himself from any wrongdoing in the ISRO-Devas agreement, shrugged off his involvement in the policy adopted for 2G Spectrum allocation and instead suggested that the Finance Ministry had supported former Telecom Minister A. Raja's decision to reject his proposal to go in for the auction route.
Striking a defensive note during the question-answer session, the Prime Minister spoke repeatedly of “coalition compulsions” which “held him back from taking tough decisions”, blamed the Opposition for not allowing Parliament to function and even put the media in the dock for its excessive obsession with the negative. This, he said, had sapped the country's self-confidence.
Despite the trial and tribulations he was facing, Manmohan Singh said he had never thought of quitting. "I have a job to do. I never thought of giving up half-way," he said firmly.
Though he replied to a range of questions on issues plaguing his government, the primary focus was on the allegations of corruption, which have eroded the UPA government's credibility and hit the Prime Minister personally, who is increasingly being perceived as a leader who lacks control over his ministers.
His helplessness was evident in his reply to a question on why Raja was re-inducted as Telecom Minister in 2009 despite the raging corruption charges, which had surfaced against him during the previous regime. Reiterating that theirs is a coalition government, the Prime Minister underlined that he had no say in the choice of ministers selected by the alliance partner.
He said though he had received complaints about 2G Spectrum allocation, there was no overwhelming evidence against Raja when UPA-II was sworn in last year. “I had no reason to feel that anything seriously wrong had been done or that I had the authority to object to Raja's induction. Complaints were coming from all sides — from companies, which had not benefited. I was not in a position to make up my mind if anything was seriously wrong,” the Prime Minister pointed out.
Providing details on 2G Spectrum allocation, Manmohan Singh said he had written to Raja on November 2, 2007, expressing his concerns over complaints in this regard, asked the minister to look into it in a fair and transparent manner and suggested that he should adopt the auction route instead of the existing first-come-first-serve policy. Raja, he said, responded by saying that he had been fair and transparent in his dealings. "He assured me that nothing wrong will happen," the Prime Minister said.
He said Raja did not agree that auction was the way forward for the 2G Spectrum. "He was clear that he should stay with the existing approach," the Prime Minister explained. In this, he had the support of the Telecom Commission, the TRAI and the Finance Ministry. Since he was overruled on this issue by the Finance Ministry and experts who felt otherwise, the Prime Minister said, he did not insist on a change in policy and decided not to intervene in the matter.
The Prime Minister also lent strength to the public perception that individual ministers were acting on their own without consulting the Cabinet. Referring to the allocation of Spectrum to particular companies, the Prime Minister maintained that having taken a policy decision, "the issue of who gets Spectrum and how the policy was implemented was never brought to him or the Cabinet".
Though the Prime Minister did not take on the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) frontally, he disagreed with the watchdog's calculation on the loss incurred in the 2G Spectrum scam, stating that CAG itself had called it a presumptive loss. Stating that there were various methods of computing the figures, he cited examples of the Rs 80,000-crore amount being spent on foodgrain subsidy and Rs 60,000 crore on fertilisers and subsidy on kerosene, wondering if these could be dubbed as losses.
Media interaction a cover-up, says Gadkari
New Delhi, February 16
Reacting instantly to the Prime Minister’s interaction with the Editors of various TV channels, BJP president Nitin Gadkari said: “This UPA Government has no will to fight corruption. The media interaction was a cover-up.”
Meanwhile, BJP spokesman Syed Shahnawaz Husain pointed out that Manmohan Singh “had virtually admitted to being a weak Prime Minister” by saying that he takes several decisions against his nature due to the compulsions of coalition and called him a “majboor” (helpless) Prime Minister. Shahnawaz also criticised the Prime Minister for “blaming the Opposition, the media and the judiciary for all misfortunes befalling the UPA Government.”
The BJP president also expressed dismay at the Prime Minister’s comparison of 2G Spectrum concessions to subsidy on fertilisers and kerosene. “He (PM) compared Spectrum prices to prices of fertilisers, oil and food, this is a matter to laugh at,” said Gadkari. “He has blamed the Opposition for the JPC. If he thinks we wasted Parliament's time, then why didn't he agree to a JPC earlier?” Gadkari asked.
The Left, too, was scathing in its attack on the Prime Minister for equating the 2G loss with subsidising foodgrains to the poor. “On two vital issues - corruption and inflation - confronting the nation and the people, the Prime Minister has virtually thrown up his hands by saying nothing much can be done. This is very unfortunate,” said CPM Politburo member Sitaram Yechury.
“Subsidising the poor is one aspect, but subsidising the rich, and saying that it is necessary, is just naked loot of the country. The PM has actually admitted to the fact that his government has been giving subsidies to the corporate sector by giving away national assets like the Spectrum at throwaway prices,” he added.
The CPM leader also wondered why the Prime Minister allowed the entire winter session to be washed out if he was not averse to appearing before a JPC or any other committee.
Another CPM leader Brinda Karat also questioned the Prime Minister’s defence of the corporate sector. “On one hand, he actually defended both policies and procedures (of 2G spectrum allocation) and even the immediate sale of equity of two companies through huge amounts. He actually defended it saying this was just a way of raising funds from the market,” she said.