An ominous sign for government
31 Jan 2012 11:31:00 PM IST
Here is a telling contrast in fighting corruption. The nation has seen in the last couple of years two distinct endeavours to fight corruption. One is the fight for a new anti-corruption law with the blessings of even the suspects. And the other is identifying the suspects and fighting them under existing laws. Anna Hazare and his team have launched an agitation for an anti-corruption law — the Lokpal Bill — without which, they told the nation, corruption could not be fought or contained. In their enterprise against corruption they first appealed to Sonia Gandhi for her support to fight corruption! And she also wrote to Anna offering her support! Subramanian Swamy, on the other hand, took the view that corruption could well be fought under the existing anti-corruption law provided the corrupt are targeted directly. First, he filed an application with the prime minister for prosecuting A Raja for his role in the 2G scam. Next he applied to the prime minister for sanction to prosecute Sonia Gandhi, whose support Anna had sought to stop corruption. Swamy, a seasoned politician and accomplished intellectual, knew that without the visible picture of the corrupt, corruption is a theoretical issue — a point which the apolitical Anna and team had missed.
How Subramanian Swamy has cornered the UPA finally is not a complex story. The 2G licence issue had all the trappings of an open air theatre scam from the day the licences were fraudulently issued, namely, on January 10, 2008. When the government was covering up the 2G issue, everyone was merely wondering how to fix the government. But Swamy acted. He filed an application on November 24, 2008, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for permission to prosecute A Raja who had issued the 2G licences. At that time Raja was a powerful minister in the ministry of UPA-I, being from the DMK that was dominant in the alliance. The anti-corruption law mandates that no court can look at a complaint against a public servant “except with the previous sanction” of the authority competent to remove the public servant from office. Since Raja was a minister, who could be removed by the PM, Swamy approached the PM for the sanction.
The likes of Sibals and Chidambarams were perhaps laughing at Swamy. But Swamy persisted. He kept on writing letters to the prime minister reminding him about his application. He ceaselessly kept talking about it in public and through the media. But the prime minister, as he is sworn to in most matters, kept silent. The silence of the PM had made the government and the ruling party happy. But Swamy moved the Delhi High Court for a direction to the PM to take a decision on his plea. The high court dismissed Swamy’s petition. The ruling government and party were in ecstasy. But, undeterred, Swamy moved the Supreme Court. The PM had written to Swamy on March 10, 2010, that Swamy’s plea for prosecuting Raja was premature as the CBI was investigating the matter — a response authored by amateur legalism. After having trivialised Swamy thus, on April 26, 2010, the PM told the media — which asked him whether Raja’s statement that he had the approval of the PM to do what he did — that Raja had consulted him before issuing the licences. That what the PM had accepted as consultation, Raja has asserted as permission.
Swamy also complained to the Supreme Court about the inordinate delay by the PM in deciding the matter. Meanwhile, the 2G issue had exploded on the face of the government with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India saying that the loss to the government was, on the lower side, some `69,000 crore and could be as high as `1,75,000 crore. The Supreme Court, seeing the government prevaricating at all levels, began monitoring the CBI investigation of the scam. The petition by Swamy too became part of the 2G scam litigation in the Supreme Court. The CBI did file charge-sheets in some cases of scam, including Raja as an accused in all except one. But Swamy’s plea to the PM to prosecute Raja and the PM’s inaction on it survived for consideration by the Supreme Court. The apex court did go deep into the matter, called for the records of the PMO and asked for an explanation from the PMO for the delay. By now, the ruling party and the government stopped laughing at Swamy. It became the turn of Swamy to laugh at them. It is the plea of Swamy to the PM to allow him to prosecute Raja which has been decided by the Supreme Court on January 31, 2012, in a landmark judgment.
First, the court has set aside the judgment of the Delhi High Court that had refused to direct the PM to decide on Swamy’s plea. Second, it has ruled that it is the constitutional right of a citizen to move to prosecute any public servant. Third, the authority to whom the application is made for permission to prosecute should take a decision within three months and if, within four months, no decision is taken, the permission shall be deemed to be granted. The import of the Supreme Court judgment is evident. The court has clearly indicted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for delaying the decision on Swamy’s plea. It has also directed him to decide on Swamy’s plea in 90 days. The court has also said that Parliament should lay down the guidelines for 2G prosecution. Finally, the court has said that for ordering inquiries into corruption against any public servant, criminal courts do not need sanction.
It may appear at the first sight that the judgment is against Raja and the PM. But, in substance, it is just an ant-bite on Raja and an embarrassment for the PM. Raja, already charge-sheeted, is in jail. The PM will have no difficulty in allowing one more complaint — that of Swamy — against Raja. But the real danger lies in the other application by Swamy — for permission to prosecute Sonia Gandhi — which the PM has labelled as “premature” and ducked. Under the anti-corruption law, the PM can sack Sonia, the chairperson of National Advisory Council, even though he himself may be removed by her. Swamy can now ask the PM whether the complaint has matured. He can also move the criminal court for inquiry against Sonia Gandhi for which, the Supreme Court has ruled, no sanction is needed. Swamy’s statement that he “can bypass Vadra and go straight to Sonia” is ominous. The Congress cannot laugh at him now.
(Views expressed in the column are the author’s own)
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.