>2G Spectrum Scam
Author: Subramanian Swamy
Price: Rs 595
Of the many politicians who have taken up the task to bring the perpetrators of the 2G scam to justice, Subramanian Swamy stands out for his doggedness and an almost missionary zeal. He did not stop at merely stirring the murky pot and pursuing the matter in the courts; Swamy has now written an exhaustive account of the scam. While the massive irregularities the Telecom Ministry indulged in during A Raja’s tenure as Union Telecom Ministry is now all in the public domain, and whatever is not known will be out in the course of the investigations, the book is relevant for two reasons: One, it is a valuable reference material for academics, commentators and students of contemporary subjects; and, two, it raises larger issues of governance in an increasingly industrialised nation, where narrow materialistic considerations threaten to outweigh the larger national good.
The author takes us into the frightening reality of how corrupt the country is perceived by international agencies and the general causes of the malaise. From fudged accounts of corporate entities to the generation and siphoning away of black money to the role of illicit funds in promoting terror activities, he gives us a quick take on the vast and seemingly unmanageable problem. Towards the end, Swamy suggests a national policy to counter it. This would involve the integration of “spiritual values and organisational leadership”. He lays emphasis on the incorporation of the “evolved youth” in the plan since that alone could create a “modern mindset”. But for that to happen, as he rightly points out, there will have to be a greater accountability in governance — something that the political class talks of a lot but does precious little to execute. What remains unsaid, therefore, is that such a national policy will not be forthcoming unless the people, especially the youth, compel the Government to respond.
The author has relied on a heap of material that has emerged through the investigations, including the various correspondences among Ministers and Government officials on the subject. Again, while they are all known, they help in maintaining the focus and keep the issue in perspective, highlighting the callousness of those in power in allowing the scam to take shape. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s observations, too, have been used extensively, and rightly so, because it is the CAG findings that officially set the ball rolling for a probe, involving the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central Bureau of Investigation. The latter had been rather reluctant in fully involving itself till the Supreme Court cracked the whip.
The large canvas of the scam included a number of personalities and institutions, and the author has done well to approach the issue in an uncluttered fashion. He has neatly categorised the important developments, such as those involving CAG, the Public Accounts Committee, the Radia tapes and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. He has also provided a chronology of the event dating from September 24, 2007, to January 25, 2008 — the time when the Telecom Ministry took the stand that no application under the Unified Access Services (UAS) would be accepted after October 10, 2007, to the questionable issuance of those licences. Swamy puts on record that then TRAI chief Nripendra Misra had said that the Ministry had never sought the authority’s views on grant of new licences. This is important since the Government has been saying that it had complied with TRAI guidelines. In fact, TRAI also took the position that its opinion should be sought even if the Telecom Ministry issued fresh licences under the existing policy. Misra had also warned the Government against what is now famously quoted as “cherry picking” of the recommendations the Authority had made on the matter of issuing licences.
A great deal of what the book contains will sound familiar to the regular readers of The Pioneer. The daily had been the first to break the 2G scam through a series of articles beginning 2008-end. For more than 18 months, The Pioneer continued to publish one informed expose after another, detailing the murky business of the 2G deal. The end result was that the authorities, compelled by the exposes and driven by the Supreme Court, had to take finally note and act.
There are many heroes in this tale. While Swamy is certainly one of them, he has been quick to acknowledge the others, particularly the whistle blower, Ashirvatham Achari, without whose cooperation the scam would have remained buried in the sands of time. The Pioneer correspondent J Gopikrishnan doggedly pursued the story, flinging aside temptations that were laid his way by those who wanted the matter forgotten. He is the other hero the author names.
While the probe is now on track and there is hope that the guilty will be eventually punished, the fact remains that a scam of this magnitude can happen again. The book provides some solutions to prevent that, but it is for the political class to wake up and recognise that. Meanwhile, we need more such whistle-blowers, news correspondents and activists.