A Victory For Crony Capitalism

What a colossal loss of time, money and news space! For close to seven years now, the nation has been riveted on what has been described by commentators as the ‘Mother of All Scams’. Anchors have shouted themselves hoarse in heated TV debates. Lakhs of reams of papers have been used up to report on every little development in the case. Reputations have been tarnished. An election has been fought and won on it. And now, at the end of it all, we have been told by Special CBI judge OP Saini that there was no 2G scam after all! We have often used the expression ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’, but never before it appeared more appropriate to describe a situation than it does now.

Now that the judgment has acquitted all the 18 charged by the CBI in the ‘scam that wasn’t’ – worth an astronomical Rs 1.76 lakh crores, according to former CAG Vinod Rai – it’s time to think how this complete anti-climax came about. There are three possible ways to see it. First, as judge Saini said, there was no scam at all. But the problem with this assumption is: what then was the basis of the Supreme Court cancelling as many as 122 telecom licenses sending the whole telecom sector into a tailspin and jeopardizing foreign investment in the process? What were the tell-all Radia tapes all about? The tweaking of the rules at the last minute to benefit favourites, the rigging of the whole process, the floating of shell companies to channelize money and the hefty premiums earned by those who managed to get second generation spectrum licenses by selling them to bigger players – both domestic and foreign – and the sizeable revenue that the government earned after spectrum was auctioned are all recorded facts. It is thus obvious that there was something seriously fishy about the way the UPA went about handling the spectrum business – whether we call it a scam or a policy decision leading to a ‘presumptive loss’.

Second, the ‘caged parrot’ has messed it up again – as it has done in several recent cases, including the high profile Aarushi murder case. In his judgment, Judge Saini has said the prosecution ‘miserably failed’ to prove its charges. In a bid to save face, the CBI has said it would challenge the verdict in the Delhi High Court. But as we have seen in the Aarushi case, once evidence is messed up at the trial stage, there is precious little that a higher court can do about it. That the High Court will uphold the trial judge’s verdict is, therefore, a foregone conclusion. The judiciary goes solely and strictly by the evidence presented before it and the quality of the evidence proffered by the CBI was obviously not good enough to prove the charges beyond reasonable doubt and convict the accused. One wonders whether there was actually no evidence that would have been admissible in the court or such evidence was deliberately suppressed to save the accused. Whether it was plain incompetence or was there something more to it? My hunch is it’s the second.

Third, the quality of the prosecution, which CBI judge said had ‘totally deteriorated’ over the last three years. Clearly, someone very powerful somewhere was not keen on the conviction of the accused and pulled the right strings to ensure that the prosecution falls flat. If nothing else, the choice of ADAG chief Anil Ambani, who should have been one of the accused, as a prosecution ‘witness’ and his convenient ‘memory loss’ at the time of actual deposition suggests all was not honky dory.

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My understanding of today’s judgment is having used the 2G scam to telling effect to win the 2014 elections, the Narendra Modi government saw no point in taking it to its logical conclusion because that would have meant convicting some of his darlings in big business. If some UPA era politicians like A Raja and Kanimozhi and bureaucrats like Sidharth Beura also got away scot-free in the process, then so be it. It is important to remember here that the BJP did not unearth the 2G ‘scam’; it jumped on to the bandwagon only after the spadework had been done by the likes of Prasant Bhushan and Dr. Subramaniam  Swamy (who was not in the BJP at the time) and used it to beat the UPA – the Congress, in particular – in the run up to the last general elections. Let us not forget that the corporate czars who prospered during the UPA rule, including the man who called the Congress ‘apni dukaan’ in the Radia tapes, have prospered even more in the NDA government. Governments may come and governments may go, but corporates clearly go on forever!

The Congress is already using the judgment as a ‘victory’ of sorts with the ebullient Kapil Sibal coming out of exile to describe it as ‘vindication’ of his ‘zero-loss’ theory. But the real winner of today’s judgment is crony capitalism!