This scam scorched the party and the Congress. Both can now look forward to consolidating their electoral fortunes
~By Puneet Nicholas Yadav
On December 21, as a special CBI court in Delhi acquitted all 19 accused in the 2G spectrum scam, the excitement in the Congress and the DMK was palpable as was the disappointment within the BJP.
The Court’s acquittal of former telecom minister A Raja and DMK MP Kanimozhi has already begun to change the political narrative over the scam, giving the Congress and the DMK a chance to both redeem themselves and claim vindication and victimisation. The BJP had used then Comptroller and Auditor General Vinod Rai’s estimation of a Rs 1.76-lakh crore presumptive loss to the exchequer in the spectrum allocation as its main ammunition to dethrone the Congress-led UPA in the general election of 2014. The DMK had seen a similar rout in Tamil Nadu.
Soon after the verdict was delivered by special CBI judge OP Saini, Congress general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad and party colleague Anand Sharma were the first political leaders to call on Kanimozhi. Back in 2010, when the alleged scam made headlines, it was Azad who was tasked by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to broker a settlement with DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi on the fate of Raja, whose head the BJP was aggressively angling for.
As the storm over the scam washed out one Parliament session after another, the credibility of the UPA government and Dr Manmohan Singh took a beating. By November 10, 2010, Sonia and Singh had had enough.
Singh made it clear to the DMK that if Raja didn’t voluntarily resign as minister by November 12—the day when the PM was scheduled to return from an official tour abroad—he would be ousted. On that day, Raja flew to Delhi from Chennai and tendered his resignation.
In the months that followed, the heat over the scam only increased. To its demand for setting up a joint parliamentary committee, the BJP added another —that the prime minister be also summoned and subject himself to the scrutiny of his parliamentary colleagues. The Congress was left fuming, the DMK muted. Singh indicated that he was prepared to be questioned on the alleged scam by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee which was then headed by BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi. The Congress hoped that this offer would end the BJP’s campaign for a JPC probe. But it didn’t. Finally, in February 2011, soon after parliament reconvened for its Budget session, Singh caved in and a 30-member JPC was constituted.
However, the JPC was reduced to a sparring club, where the Congress and DMK members were regularly blamed by the BJP for trying to scuttle a fair probe. The JPC, predictably, gave a clean chit to Singh as well as Raja. However, the damage to the UPA’s credibility was complete.
Congress-DMK relations were hit hard by the scam. Karunanidhi was upset at the Congress leadership’s treatment of Raja, Kanimozhi and his grand-nephew Dayanidhi Maran—who also had to quit the cabinet over suspicion of involvement in the scam. In February 2011, when the PM was asked why he had chosen Raja to head the telecom portfolio, he replied: “We are a coalition government and in a coalition government you can suggest your preferences but you have to go by what the leader of that coalition party insists and Mr Raja along with Mr (Dayanidhi) Maran was the choice of the DMK party.” He added: “Some compromises have to be made in managing a coalition” and that “things are not entirely what I would like them to be”.
His comments were seen as a personal slight by the DMK leadership. He had clearly left Raja, Kanimozhi and the DMK top brass to fend for themselves. Then on June 29, 2011, Singh went on to comment about the alleged irregularities committed by Raja in the allocation of spectrum: “If a cabinet colleague tells me that in all matters of his ministry, he will scrupulously work by the norms of ethics, fairness and transparency, how can I conduct a post-mortem… ministers administer their departments… the minister should have said it was his responsibility—rather than saying that the Prime Minister has also endorsed it.”
Now, with the special CBI court not only acquitting all the accused in the scam but also demolishing the entire case, all those marked by the spectrum taint are evidently happy. Congress leader Kapil Sibal, who had succeeded Raja in the telecom portfolio and was booed by the Opposition and media alike for his “zero loss theory”, was among the first to claim that he and Singh had been vindicated. Singh said that while the “judgment speaks for itself”, it has also proved that “all the massive propaganda which was being done against the UPA was without any foundation”.
For the Congress, the verdict has come as a major morale booster. The party expectedly wants to re-build relations with the DMK and Azad’s meeting with Kanimozhi is possibly the first step towards this effort.
The DMK clan would now want to put its family feuds aside and consolidate its electoral base. As it saw a steady decline in its popularity after this scam, this is perhaps the moment it has been waiting for. Its principal political rival—the AIADMK—is in utter disarray since the demise of J Jayalalithaa a year ago. This sweet victory, no matter how fragile, will help DMK working president MK Stalin build bridges with his half-sister, Kanimozhi, and warm up to Raja —the party’s Dalit face. Even a pragmatic rapprochement between Stalin and his estranged elder brother, Madurai warhorse MK Alagiri, cannot be ruled out.
The DMK clan would now want to put its family feuds aside and consolidate its electoral base. As it saw a decline in its popularity after this scam, this is perhaps the moment it has been waiting for.
Stalin knows that his party must systematically challenge the AIADMK while also preparing for a new adversary, Tamil film icon Kamal Haasan who may launch his promised political outfit in the coming months.
But there’s a catch. Politics, as the cliché goes, makes for strange bed-fellows. The BJP, which has relentlessly raked up the spectrum scam case to attack the Congress and DMK is also hoping to make in-roads in Tamil Nadu. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently called on DMK patriarch Karunanidhi and the meeting had sparked rumours of a possible tie-up between the two parties.
Of course, politically, the BJP will have to do a lot of explaining before the electorate if such an alliance materialises. But knowing Modi’s reputation for spindoctoring, the eventuality of a BJP-DMK alliance can’t be ruled out.
From being a pariah to a potential ally for both the BJP and the Congress, the DMK’s fortunes are on an upswing. It can bargain hard for a lion’s share of seats in the event of a pre-poll alliance with either party—and call the shots on how it would want its suitor to negate the bitter rhetoric of the past.
Interesting times lie ahead.