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Above: Former telecom minister A Raja at the Patiala House Court after his acquittal in the 2G scam case/Photo: UNI

~By Inderjit Badhwar

I spoke to former UPA Telecom Minister A Raja, the blue-eyed boy of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, shortly after his acquittal by a special CBI trial court in the 2G “scam” last week. He said: “I told you so. Go back to what I told your magazine two years ago, and you will see who was telling the truth.”

My use of inverted commas around the word “scam” is deliberate. This is because cop-turned-judge Om Prakash Saini, who pronounced the verdict after trying the case for six years, could not find an iota of evidence to support the CBI’s charges of criminal wrongdoing by any of the 19 accused.

Judge Saini is a tough nut to crack. He was the one who initially denied bail to co-accused Kanimozhi, Karunanidhi’s daughter, in the same case. He put Suresh Kalmadi behind bars in the Commonwealth Games corruption scandal. He personally summoned some of the top industrialists—Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel, Asim Ghosh of Hutchison Max and Ravi Ruia of Sterling Cellular—for questioning. As a POTA judge, he awarded the death sentence to a terrorist who was part of an attack on an army camp in Red Fort in 2000. The 2G case was not the only high-level corruption case he has tried. Prominent among others was the National Aluminium Company Ltd (NALCO) graft scandal in which he denied bail to the chairman, AK Srivastava.

A RajaWith a judge of this mettle presiding over your case, it takes enormous confidence and strength of belief to talk to the press openly and defiantly about your case. You risk annoying the judge and perhaps, even contempt for analysing sub-judice matters.

And that’s what Raja did in March 2015 when he was on bail after having already spent 15 months in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. He broke his silence to speak at length—and on the record—to India Legal. The 2G controversy had led to his dismissal as a minister and contributed to the fall of the UPA government. Yet, Raja insisted it was a bogus, trumped-up persecution in which the CAG and CBI were the real villains.

Raja was fully aware that the court which was trying him had been set up at the behest of the Supreme Court which was closely monitoring the case. Yet, he was bold enough to intone: “One day, 2G will be my strength.” Looking at the massive judgment (reported elsewhere in this issue) delivered by one of the toughest judges in the country, Raja was not far off the mark.

Raja has just finished writing a book. It is not about his days in Tihar, which in itself is a fascinating story. The book, he told me, “will talk about why I was put there and how I was charged with corruption as I had allegedly abused power. The truth is that I waged a war against monopoly, cartelisation and surreptitious exploitation of a natural source. My honest efforts in the telecom sector and the dubious attitude of various individuals and institutions will be correctly exposed”.

(L-R) OP saini and suresh kalmadiIn fact, Raja debunked the popular “Rs 1.7-lakh crore loss to the treasury” as a figment of the CAG’s imagination—a figure that was hyped all over the press and used endlessly in Parliament by opposition parties to discredit the government.

Raja’s main argument has been that the whole issue was never a matter of corruption or loss to the exchequer but one of policy. If the aim was to make money for the government, an auction was the logical choice. But in this case, the government deliberately foreclosed that option and chose instead to expand and multiply cellphone usage by levelling the playing field for new entrants and making rates cheaper through increased competition.

DMK’s Kanimozhi, a co-accused with A Raja, was also acquitted by the CBI court
DMK’s Kanimozhi, a co-accused with A Raja, was also acquitted by the CBI court

Raja said: “I wanted to break the cartel. The PM was in the loop. I discussed everything with the PM and the FM. I disclosed how much spectrum was available. To maintain a level playing field, we did not assign a cost. But those who got it free earlier, wanted to stop new players. Established monopoly players like Bharti had a free run until 2007. There had never been an auction before and because I wanted a level playing field for new players, we did not go in for an auction. It was also not required under TRAI. So these established monopolies went running to the PM even though they had already got 10 megahertz free. The PM sent me a note with an unsigned annexure. Have you ever heard of such a thing? In the letter, he told me not to proceed without consulting him. So I wrote back telling him what I did. Now that is being produced as evidence in the court and that is why he (the PM) was being called to depose. I still stand by every decision I took. Investigations by the ED and other agencies could find no evidence of bribes and there is no case of disproportionate assets against me.”

In Raja’s words:

  • “Initially, when the matter was heard by the Supreme Court, it made oral observations that the figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crore was ‘mindboggling’ and I am told it even wanted to vet the chargesheet. That is unknown in criminal jurisprudence. The media and the opposition called it the biggest monumental scam ever heard. The apex court exercised its power under Article 142 and observed that the CAG report has to be treated as a basis for a CBI investigation. When the charges were framed, the trial court did not rely on any figure for exchequer loss as mentioned in either the CVC or the CAG report. However, bail applications filed by other accused were earlier dismissed by respective courts referring to the enormity of the offence, i.e. exchequer loss. Constitutional bodies like the CAG should uphold the Constitution equally with others. Some provisions of the Constitution are made on the basis of the presumption that the ‘King can do no wrong’. Unfortunately, there is no remedial provision when this presumption became predilections. There is a Saxon maxim: ‘High and Extraordinary Justice is Injustice’. So, the reason why I didn’t file for bail is simple—I was waiting for justice.
  • In Parliament, one AIADMK MP called me Spectrum King. I stubbornly replied: ‘I am a proud Spectrum Raja as call rates were reduced by me and now people are using 3G on their mobiles which I introduced.’
  • Is it not an unfair, dubious and deliberate attempt to misguide the country by still relying on the Rs 1.76 lakh crore figure of exchequer loss when the figure of CAG has been discarded by both the CBI for investigation and by the Court for framing of the charge?
  • Is it not a fit case to probe the veracity of the CAG report and personal integrity of CAG when its report is not endorsed by PAC, and there were internal disputes in CAG about the arrival of the figure?
  • Despite CBI raids on all my family members and friends in more than 10 places, and enquiries by the Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax department, has any ill-gotten wealth been found with me?
  • I started the telecom revolution and for that, got branded as a criminal.
  • To my knowledge, this is the first time in judicial history that the CAG report was taken into criminal investigation, when otherwise it is meant only for Parliament. Having taken the CAG report as prima facie evidence, I wanted to call the CAG into the witness box. However, for reasons best known to the CBI, the investigating officer deposed that the CBI did not rely upon the CAG report for its investigation. It may not be fair to refer to the proceedings or the deposition made in the trial court when the case is pending. Yet, it has been my stand from day one, that I have been charged for ‘murder’ but the person who was allegedly murdered by me is still alive. So I am pleading only for righteousness and justice.
  • Under these circumstances, I have no hesitation in saying that existing telecom players led by Sunil Mittal played a bigger role in defaming and levelling insinuations about wrong-doings in awarding new telecom licences. But I have faith in the judiciary and will prove my innocence and come out stronger.
  • You cannot come across any instance when a minister or a politician who has been charged for a corruption case with such media hype prefers to step into the witness box and offers himself for cross-examination by the CBI. But I did it for 12 days. I never felt that I was trapped. I am not the only person who was charged for a crime I did not commit. I was charged because I stopped the telecom monopoly from committing fraud and crime. Truth will prevail. History will absolve me.”

—Inderjit Badhwar is Editor-in-Chief, India Legal. He can be reached editor@indialegallive.com

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