It is a rare phenomenon that politicians, irrespective of whichever party they belong to, speak the truth. But former diplomat and staunch Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar belongs to a different league altogether. In previous interviews with Zee News he has always stood by the truth and expressed hope that he would continue to do so.
Aiyar, who spoke exclusively to Zeenews.com’s Swati Chaturvedi on her programme Kahiye Janab, talked about recent scams like the Adarsh Society and 2G Spectrum and a lot more.
Swati: What would you like to say on the removal of Ashok Chavan and Suresh Kalmadi?
Aiyar: As soon as it came to light that Ashok Chavan’s relatives were involved in the Adarsh Society scam he was given a signal that he would be removed from the chief minister’s post. Keeping the security measures in place for Obama’s India visit in mind, Chavan was not removed immediately. But the very moment when the Obamas left India, Chavan was axed from his post.
Now, if we talk about Suresh Kalmadi, he is still the chairman of the Indian Olympics Association, and this is the reason why he has gone to China (for Asian Games) as well. The only thing which has been done is that he has been removed from the party post as he had written a letter to Soniaji saying he was overburdened with work. Kalmadi had said in the letter that he would be grateful if some of his burden was taken off and this is the reason he wanted to resign from the party post and apparently his resignation has been accepted. Now you may think that Soniaji had asked him to write this letter. This is completely up to you what you want to interpret.
Swati: What do you think - Suresh Kalmadi fell on the sword or vice versa?
Aiyar: The best part is as soon as the CWG ended, a probe committee was formed under the guidance of such a great personality, VK Shanglu. Yes, I agree that many things went wrong and on which a probe is necessary. I will blame Kalmadiji only after the probe is complete and all the allegations are proven.
Swati: DMK has clearly said that come what may they will support A Raja. During UPA-I you had the support of Left with you. Do you think the Left’s support was a more principled one?
Aiyar: DMK was always important for us, be it the first or the second term. Due to the DMK’s support the Indo-US nuke deal became possible. During the UPA-I there were some differences with the Left regarding the relationship between India and America. Due to these differences the Left withdrew its support from the UPA government. But it was Manmohan Singh’s vision for the mankind and his belief that the nuke deal was very important for India. That is why he went through a no confidence motion and won it with the support of Mulayam Singh’s party. So we were always in need of DMK’s support and we continue to have it. Now, I can’t say what will happen after the probe is over. We all have to wait for 3-4 days more to know the actual picture.
Swati: You were also a minister in the government (sports minister) and were removed from the post. A Raja is also a minister and member of the DMK. But is it enough punishment to just remove him from his post? Do you think that DMK is being unfair in continuously supporting Raja?
Aiyar: Firstly (on a strict note), I was not removed from my post; I myself said that I do not want to continue as a sports minister. So you can’t say that I was removed. Whenever there is a matter of suspicion, a deep scrutiny is necessary. If you can’t wait till the inquiry is over then I can’t help it.
No one has removed Kalmadiji from the post of MP of the Congress party. He is still the president of Indian Olympic Association and he is still the chairman of the CWG Organising Committee. It is just that his resignation from the party’s parliamentary post has been accepted just to minimize his work pressure.
Now if we talk about A Raja, the CAG report has just come in. The Prime Minister is yet to discuss the entire matter with him and then only any decision would be taken. The entire matter is still unclear, so how can anyone talk about the quantum of punishment.
Swati: The ‘Economist’ magazine has written that Rahul Gandhi had said in the AICC sessions and also in Parliament that there are two Indias (one for the rich and the other for poor). In the last seven and a half years that the Congress has been governing India, we have had the Adarsh Society scam and the CWG scam. How much has PM Manmohan Singh been able to bridge the gap between the two Indias?
Aiyar: (Smiles suggestively) Has he (Manmohan Singh) really narrowed the gap or widened it?
According to the PM, whenever the economic growth accelerates there will always be disparity and the gap between the rich and the poor will always widen. We can clearly see if we look at the Forbes India’s Dec 4, 2009 issue, that there are 100 industrialists who have 25% of the GDP in a country where 120 crore people reside. Dr Arjun Sengupta, who recently passed away, had said in his report that 77% Indians run their houses daily with a meager 20 rupees or less, and this 77% translates into almost 90 crore people of this nation. 100 people are so rich to have 25% of the country’s GDP. 47% children in this nation are still undernourished. So the picture is quite clear.
Swati: You have maintained your faith in this government, but I have always felt that you are an odd-fit in this set-up. But people have now started feeling that whatever any of your party people say, it is only ‘crocodile tears’ and nothing else. What do you have to say as scams are being unearthed everyday like the Adarsh Society being built on the land meant for the Kargil martyrs and the 2G Spectrum scam. The CBI raided the Telecom Ministry, but what are the compulsions that you are still keeping A Raja in the government?
Aiyar: Okay, let me answer you one by one. On the issue of Adarsh Society, I would like to say that all the Kargil widows who wished to have a flat in the tainted society were not returned empty hand. All of them got a flat. Not a single flat was left. But in the meanwhile, taking advantage of the situation a construction order for a 31-storey high-rise was passed in which a lot of top dignitaries were involved. But in the same country the orders were taken back also. So the media should not just talks about the mistakes but also shed light on the facts that the order has been taken back and a probe has been ordered. The same government is also mulling to demolish the building. The Defence Ministry for the first time has asked the CBI to bring out the truth and conduct fair investigation into this matter, since some officials have retired. This only happens in India; such people are made president in Pakistan.
Now coming to the 2G scam, just read the TRAI report. They have given a recommendation which is in printed form and A Raja has just followed it by saying that “I will accept the TRAI’s recommendations”.
In the Adarsh Society scam the problem was that the norms were not followed and in the 2G scam the norms were followed. So let both the probes unfold and let A Raja defend himself with all the evidences he has, then only we will come to any conclusion. The 3G issue has cropped up now whereas Raja had accepted the norms during the auction of 2G. He could not have predicted the future.
Swati: During the 2G auction people were holding files and were literally fighting outside the government office whereas open auction could have been a very viable solution. The inquiry report says that both Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee’s orders were not followed, but still it seems that your government is not able to decide on A Raja’s fate. What is the reason behind this?
Aiyar: A Raja accepted the TRAI’s recommendation and even you agree on this, then why are you not questioning the then chairman of TRAI? Why did he make those recommendations? Now he is saying that an open auction should have been done in which the rates should have been decided by the market, but then why did he make those recommendations earlier. It is he who should be questioned rather than A Raja.
But yes, being a minister Raja must have thought before implementing any idea. Still, the application of mind is different from taking bribe. Raja is still not guilty and he should be given chance to prove his innocence. Ours is not a ‘kangaroo court’. In India we give chance to the accused to put forth his arguments, only then a decision is taken. As you know US President Barack Obama was here due to which Manmohan Singh was very busy and he left for South Korea immediately after that, so he has not been able to listen to A Raja’s part of the story. Now that the PM has returned, he will definitely hear out Raja’s side and then make a fair decision. But till then do not jump to any conclusions.
Swati: After the CWG, Adarsh and Spectrum scams what would like to say about the picture of the UPA-II?
Aiyar: Yes, I agree when these scams came to light the government’s image was tarnished. But once the probes are over impartially and if allegations are proved the UPA government will defiantly take some stringent action. In the spectrum case the story is not finished yet, nothing has been proved yet.
Swati: I will ask a common man’s question. Whom have you enjoyed working more with - Rajiv Gandhi or Manmohan Singh?
Aiyar: (Starting with Rajiv Gandhi with eagerness) Lots of allegations were framed against Rajiv Gandhi like the Bofors case. And all these allegations were completely false and just meant to tarnish his image. Many top politicians like Arun Jaitley and others accused Rajivji, but this kind of mud-slinging happens in politics; a true leader never fails in all these and keeps serving the people which Rajivji always did.
So, if you say that due to some scams the UPA–II has become a failure, I will not accept that at all. Various economists worldwide can make out that India is progressing and growing in a historic manner. The gross national income of India was 1% in 1947 which has risen to 9% now, which is really appreciable. The very same government has spent money on social sector programs like health, education, food etc, which is 19% more than 1994.
It’s not like that the poor of India have not got anything. Just to minimise the gap between the rich and the poor, what I feel is that the Panchayati Raj must be given more prominence. Through the Panchayati Raj system, the necessary items to the poor would reach more easily. The fault is not that only rich are getting the opportunity, the problem is services to the poor are provided by the bureaucratic system instead of the Panchayati Raj system.
It is noticeable that Rajivji in the 1980s had understood the importance of this system. The Panchayati Raj has helped fulfill the basic needs of the poor; if they have to depend on the bureaucracy their needs will never have been fulfilled.
Here I would like to take pride in saying that at some point my and Rajivji’s thoughts were quite similar.
I would really praise this government if it implements two things. First is the Panchayati Raj… much more emphasis has to be laid on this system. The second is a continuous dialogue with Pakistan, on the grounds of foreign policy, so that we can solve our problems.
Adapted by Sushmita Dutta