Prime Minister’s mask of integrity must go

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By all indications, India will have a non-Congress Government after May. The new regime should seriously examine if Manmohan Singh’s name should figure in the 2G scam and ‘Coalgate' First Information Reports

Since every opinion poll in over the last 12 months has been predicting that the electorate will give the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance a sound thrashing in the Lok Sabha election later this year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s declaration that he will not be available for a third term is certain to be the new addition to the list of Manmohan Singh jokes. Mr Singh’s belated announcement is so typical of him, as is his ability to keep a straight face and with a monotone, declare the obvious and deliver untruths and half-truths while doing so.

Mr Singh entered office in 2004 with strong credentials as an eminent economist and as a man of integrity. But by the time he completed his first term in office, both these qualities had suffered erosion. Sadly, on January 3 when he finally announced his retirement, these credentials stood completely eroded. There is now an unbridgeable trust deficit between the Prime Minister and the people. Therefore, instead of sadness that the good doctor is going to lay down office in May this year, there is worry that this event is still five months away!

Here are some events in Mr Singh’s prime ministerial tenure which raise serious doubts about his integrity and his commitment to the oath he took when he entered office.

  • Appointment of Mr Navin Chawla as the Election Commissioner in 2005:  This was one of the first acts of Mr Singh which smacked of brazen political considerations and betrayed gross contempt for public good. Mr Chawla was virtually declared a “tyrant” who was “authoritarian and callous” by the Shah Commission which probed the excesses committed by the fascist regime of Indira Gandhi during the Emergency between 1975 and 1977. The Commission declared Mr Chawla “unfit to hold any public office”. Mr Singh overlooked such a strong indictment of this man, apparently at the behest of his political boss  Congress president Sonia Gandhi, because of Mr Chawla’s proximity to the Gandhi family.

This was the first act of Mr Singh which raised doubts about his claims to being a ‘man of integrity’. It also raised the question about his commitment to his oath of office. Is a Prime Minister who appoints a person so hopelessly unfit for public office and so completely devoid of democratic credentials as an Election Commissioner, loyal to the oath which says he will work “in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”?

  • Appointment of Mr PJ Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner: A three member committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Union Minister for Home Affairs and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha were to select the Central Vigilance Commissioner, who oversees investigation of top corruption cases in the country. Mr PJ Thomas, who was an accused in a corruption case pertaining to import of palmolein oil in Kerala, was one of the persons short-listed for the job.

Obviously, acting on the orders of Ms Gandhi, the Prime Minister ganged up with the Home Minister, brushed aside the objections of the Leader of the Opposition and selected Mr Thomas. No other Prime Minister has displayed such gross irresponsibility in making an appointment at that level. Later, the Supreme Court threw Mr Thomas out of office and, while doing so, virtually indicted the Prime Minister when it said it was the duty of the committee not to recommend a person “who can affect the institutional integrity of the CVC”. Did it need the Supreme Court to tell Mr Singh something so basic while appointing the CVC? This was yet another instance when Mr Singh’s claim to being a ‘man of integrity’, was seriously questioned.

  • Allowing Ottavio Quattrocchi to walk away with the Bofors loot: The Central Bureau of Investigation obtained records which established that Ottavio Quattrocchi, the friend of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, had been paid a commission totaling $7.3 million when India purchased field guns from Bofors for its Army. This was Indian public money and it had no business to land up in Quattrocchi’s account.

The Vajpayee Government got the British authorities to freeze this bank  account. Instead of securing repatriation of this money, which belonged to the Indian public, Mr Singh asked the British to unfreeze this bank account and allowed Quattrocchi to enjoy the loot. This act of his, done clearly at the behest of his political boss, Ms Gandhi, constituted another betrayal of the trust of the Indian people and tarnished his claims to personal integrity.

  • Directing the CBI to withdraw the case against Ottavio Quattrocchi: After allowing Quattrocchi to lay his hands on this ill gotten wealth, Mr Singh directed the CBI to withdraw the case against him. He also ensured Quattrocchi was not extradited to India from Argentina and even got the Interpol alert for the Italian cancelled. Yet, Mr Singh believes that he is a ‘man of integrity’.

At his Press conference last week, Mr Singh was asked about the Commonwealth Games scam, the 2G scam and ‘Coalgate’. He made the extraordinary claim that he was the one who insisted that spectrum allocation should be transparent, fair and equitable, and that coal block allocations should be done through auctions. This is a classic example of the half-truths and untruths that Mr Singh utters in order to cover up his actions which could actually place him in the list of accused in some of these corruption cases.

If indeed he was the one who insisted that 2G spectrum should be allocated in a transparent and equitable manner, why did he not do it? As Prime Minister, he had the authority to stop the fraudulent and corrupt disbursal of spectrum by the Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Similarly, in coal block allocations, if he felt they ought to be done through auctions, why did he not do it, specially when he was not only the Prime Minister but also the Coal Minister when the scandalous allotments were made?  

By all indications, India will have a new non-Congress Government after May. The first act of that Government should be to rip the mask of integrity that Mr Singh has been wearing all these years and to examine whether his name should figure in the 2G scam and ‘Coalgate’ First Information Reports. The new Government must also initiate action to recover from him $7.3 million, which he gifted away to Quattrocchi, and set new standards of accountability for our Prime Ministers.

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