Kapil Sibal and the CAG’s ‘notional atyachar’

We live in a strange, revisionist era. Nothing is what it seems, at least not for more than a few blinks.

For instance, the much-ballyhooed Pokhran II tests under Vajpayee‘s watch, we are told a decade later, was actually a damp squib. Many of the recent blasts that have were supposedly masterminded by Muslim terror-mongers were actually plotted by high functionaries of the RSS, by the admission of one of their own.

The saint of the Indian Premier League, Lalit Modi, was actually a sinner; the former saint-turned-sinner Jagmohan Dalmiya is now again a saint. The Bofors scandal that seemed properly dead and buried just last year with the closure of the case, is now back with a bang to haunt Sonia Gandhi.

Etcetera.

The 2G spectrum allocation scam that just a month ago seemed like India’s largest ripoff ever is now firmly in that revisionist realm, thanks to the new telecom minister, Kapil Sibal‘s exertions. Sibal says the “presumptive loss” of Rs 173,000 crore that the comptroller and accountant general was way off the mark.

In fact, claims “India’s greatest poet since the Bhakti movement“, with the kind of pugnacity only a Punjabi accountant can muster, that the allocation made telephony cheaper, took it far and wide, and that indeed the revenue loss was actually zero. Which, if this were a chess game, could have been called the A. Raja defence.

Little wonder, the Harvard-educated lawyer gets it left, right and centre.

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Minister’s Point, says The Telegraph:

“If Kapil Sibal has chosen to take issue with the CAG’s performance audit of the issue of second-generation licences for spectrum, the explanation must be sought in three factors. First, the Supreme Court has chosen to take interest in the issue of the licences, and has in the process implicitly indicted Sibal’s predecessor in the ministry of communications, A. Raja. Second, the Supreme Court’s investigation of Raja’s questionable activities has raised questions about the inexplicable inactivity of the prime minister while Raja ruled the roost. Finally, Sibal happens to be a lawyer of some experience. The prime minister’s last encounter with the Supreme Court, when he used executive privilege to defend a possible error, was not very astute; a more expert response was called for.”

Kapil Denial Sibal, says the Indian Express:

“Sibal’s assumption of the telecom portfolio was a sign of hope. With his reformist credentials, he was supposed to ensure transparency in the investigation, and help the ministry, and governance, move on. That is why his Friday press conference is so disturbing….

“Brazenness won’t help the political climate. Nor will it aid in ending the stalemate with the opposition. Indeed, it strikes an odd, arrogant note precisely when the government is backing the PAC as an investigatory mechanism, and that committee specifically examines the CAG report. It’s silly to score points on the weakest part of the CAG report when the Supreme Court is monitoring the situation, and the CBI is still in the process of filing a status report to the court.”

A pyrrhic win, says DNA:

“Sibal has unwittingly tried to discredit the CAG, which could turn out to be a great disservice. It would make the beleaguered UPA government far more vulnerable than before. The brilliant lawyer that he is, Sibal picked up what was the weakest point in the report and went on to clinically decimate it. But if he believes that the 2G spectrum scam would vanish into thin air because of his legal acumen, then he may have to think again….

“It is clear that Sibal is fighting a political battle on behalf of the Congress and prime minister Manmohan Singh. But politics is not just about winning debating and legal points. It is much more about images and perceptions. The image of UPA2 in the public mind at the moment is that this government is caught up in too many scams. It has much to atone for. Instead of belligerence, this government should display is a sense of penitence and do what it can to clean up the mess.”

Don’t quibble over figures, says Mail Today:

“Even if the CAG’s figures are inaccurate or speculative, it does not acquit the government — and former telecom minister A. Raja in particular — from the charge that the process followed in the allotment of 2G spectrum was fraught with irregularities. The moot issue has always been that certain entire process — and this is a question Mr Sibal has sought to deliberately obfuscate.

“It is unfortunate that the telecom minister has to make a statement that the figures stated by the CAG have “embarrassed government and the nation” as the government has no one but itself to blame for embarrassment that has been caused. It’s unfortunate that a minister has to raise questions in this manner about a constitutionally mandated watchdog.”

Subversive Sibal, says Deccan Herald:

“The minister’s arguments are those of a clever lawyer, trying to obfuscate issues and facts and create confusion. He also adopted a posture, aggressive and theatrical enough to make people believe that there was substance in the argument. But cleverness and drama do not help strengthen a case. What Sibal has done is in effect supporting the case of A.Raja, who has also advanced the same arguments. Then why did Raja have to resign?”

When a lawyer becomes judge, says The Sunday Guardian:

“If Kapil Sibal believes what he says, he should send in his resignation immediately so that Raja can be reinstated. Why was Raja dropped from the Cabinet, at such political cost, personal anguish and Karunanidhi family heartbreak if he was innocent? At the very least Manmohan Singh owes Raja a grovelling apology. Raja should in fact sue Dr Singh and Sonia Gandhi for libel, since their decision to wrench him out of the office he coveted amounted to, by Sibal’s interpretation, defamation and humiliation on a national scale.

“Obviously, Sibal was either on holiday or so immersed in his public service duties that he was totally oblivious of media when the Radia tapes took complete control of airwaves and print. Or, perhaps, again like a good lawyer, he had no interest in any fact that would be relevant to the prosecution. Since Sibal will still need a job after resignation, he can easily step into a vacant home ministry. P. Chidambaram will surely now have to resign. Chidambaram, after all, sent a letter to the Prime Minister accusing Raja of malpractice, not mere “procedural lapses”.”

Cartoon: Shyam Jagota/ Cartoon Chaupal

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