PC’s white dress and UPA’s detergent

Saswat Panigrahi

The 2G spectrum scam is no longer just a DMK affair now. The then telecom minister A Raja had allocated second generation spectrum licenses arbitrarily to fly-by-night applicants in 2008 at 2001 price, by throwing the rule book out of the window. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram, now Home Minister, then finance minister, who was supposed to be the “ultimate authority” in spectrum pricing, simply endorsed the policy decision. It was that policy decision which paved the way for the 2G loot.

Now evidence is pouring in to corroborate the very fact. Let me piece together all those evidences and ask the readers to read between the lines.

Raja-PC meeting dated Jan 30, 2008

Just 20 days after the controversial allotment of spectrum by A Raja, an important meeting between the then telecom minister and then finance minister P Chidambaram was held on January 30, 2008.

The minutes of the meeting -- prepared and signed by the then finance secretary and now RBI governor D Subbarao – which surfaced recently, has made some startling revelations.

During the meeting, it was noted that there was a mismatch in the demand and supply of spectrum across circles.

“The finance minister said that for now we are not seeking to revisit the current regimes for entry fee or for revenue share,” the minutes said.

The meeting also discussed the changing of merger and acquisition rules in the telecom sector.

“In view of the large number of new operators, it is expected that some of the companies might have obtained licences as a speculative venture. Hence, some mergers and acquisitions are likely to take place after some time which, de facto, would amount to spectrum trading, as a large part of the company’s valuation may be on account of the spectrum held by them,” the minutes said.

Incidentally, in April 2008, Raja abruptly changed the merger and acquisition norms for facilitating the sale of equity by Swan and Unitech to foreign telecom players Telenor and Etisalat. In turn Swan and Unitech made windfall profits.

Remember, the government had earlier claimed that there were no minutes of January 30, 2008 meeting between Chidambaram and Raja!

"The meeting was not such where the situation warranted preparation of any minutes," Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal had said.

This is now not to dispute that the government lied on Raja-Chidambaram meeting. But there are reasons. Government’s crisis manager wanted to protect Chidambaram.

How PC overruled Subarao?

In the run up to the January 15, 2008 event, the then finance secretary D Subbarao had several consultations with Chidambaram in which he strongly disputed the idea to allocate second generation spectrum at a seven years old price. Moreover, Subarao had issued a directive to the Department of Telecom (DoT) to stay the Spectrum allotment. But, his objections were simply brushed aside by the then finance minister to favour Raja’s dubious spectrum allotment.

Subbarao’s recent deposition before the Parliament Accounts Committee (PAC) has brought light to the fact.

PC’s letter to PM dated Januray 15, 2008

Just five days after the dubious allotment of 2G spectrum, finance minister P Chidambaram wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on January 15, 2008, suggesting that the January 10, 2008 events should be treated as a “closed chapter”. The letter was unveiled in the draft report on 2G scam prepared by PAC. The letter further points to Chidambaram’s complicity in the 2G spectrum scam. And the story does not end there.

Fin Min note to PMO dated Mar 25, 2011

A Finance Ministry note, dated March 25, 2011, sent to Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) further faulted Chidambaram.

The 11-page note, prepared by the Department of Economic Affairs, under the Ministry of Finance (MoF) -- signed by PGS Rao, deputy director, Infrastructure and Investment division and marked as “seen by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee” -- is a strong indictment of Chidambaram in 2G spectrum scam.

According to the note, the January 2008 spectrum allotment could have been cancelled and Telecom Ministry could have gone for an auction had the then finance minister P Chidambaram insisted on it.

The note obtained by RTI, a copy of which has been submitted to the Supreme Court suggested that Chidambaram and the jailed former telecom minister A Raja had jointly determined the price fixation of the 2G spectrum. The finance ministry under Chidambaram "implicitly agreed to imposition of same entry fee as that prevailing in 2001 for licences allotted up to December 31, 2008", it said.

It is an open secret that the Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidamabaram are political detractors within the Congress rank. The politically volatile note has brought to the fore the rift between the two heavyweights in the UPA cabinet.

The “mysterious note” has ignited yet another political fire on 2G.

Cong says all is well

After a series of hectic political activities in the Congress camp, a ceasefire between the two “warring ministers” has apparently been reached. This, after UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi asked Pranab Mukherjee to “bail out” Chidambaram and douse the 2G fire.

It went as per the 10, Janpath script. Mukherjee and Chidamabaram appeared before the rolling television cameras in North block. They were flanked by Telecom Minister Kipal Sibal and Law Minister Salman Kurshid.

In a carefully-worded statement Mukherjee described the 2G note as “an inter-ministerial background paper” and said “it did not reflect his views”. Reacting to his statement, Chidambaram simply responded, “I am happy with the statement made by my senior colleague. I accept the statement...the matter is closed.”

The event virtually looked like this: “Canned by their political masters Chidambaram and Mukherjee made an unwilling duet to the tune of all is well”.

But, the Congress event managers perhaps have forgotten that it was not an intra-party event to end up with a photo finish neither have the “spin doctors” of the Congress party failed to understand that it was not an ego battle to be settled between two ministers.

Crisis far from over

To cut a long story short, Chidamabram as the finance minister facilitated the 2G loot. He has been exposed out in the open.

“The matter is closed” -- this is the tainted minister’s take on 2G issue. Nothing could be a more awful joke...

But, an ‘honest Prime Minister’ has chosen to stand by Chidamabarm when the opposition knives are out against him. “The opposition is restless to force early polls,” the PM says.

The last but not the least, CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) has confirmed that it has been converted to an ancillary syndication of the Congress party by arguing in the Supreme Court, “Chidambaram is being targeted politically.”

All eyes are now on the apex court as it lists its next hearing of the case on October 10. On the D-Day the Supreme Court is expected to take a final call on Chidambaram’s role in 2G scam.

The UPA government is lurching from one crisis to another. Now, an already crippled government is losing its grip over governance. The moot question is, will the government last its full term. Only time will tell.

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