On the eve of the Prime Minister’s Press Conference I had posed five questions that I would have liked to ask the Prime Minister. My first question was “In the Prime Minister’s opinion how would history judge him”. The Prime Minister in the course of his media interaction repeatedly said that his performance was for history to judge and he hoped that history would be kinder to him than the contemporary media.
If the Prime Minister had chosen to assert himself at the right time would the situation had been different today? Let us consider three different cases which admittedly brought a bad name to the Government.
The image decline of this government commenced with the reports that all was not well in the organization of the Commonwealth Games. The government itself received several reports of the wrong doings in the Organizing Committee. Months before the Games, the Prime Minister could have stepped in and changed the Organizing Committee. The Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Shri Suresh Kalmadi could have been asked to quit or sacked. A Special Secretary of the Government of India should have been asked to chair the Committee. The country would have got the message that the Prime Minister asserted himself at the right time.
In November-December 2007, the Prime Minister started receiving reports that all is not well with the 2G Spectrum allocation. Spectrum was being undervalued and the allocation was being done through an arbitrary process. The goal post had been shifted to favour a few. The Prime Minister Office was fully aware of the goings-on. It exchanged correspondence with the Telecom Minister but lacked the courage to stop the allocation and scrap it altogether. In January 2008 the Prime Minister remained a mute spectator when the allocation had taken place to a favoured few. If before this situation he had stepped in, scrapped the allocation and constituted a committee to oversee an auction (as was done in 3G) he could have prevented a huge loss to the Exchequer. There would have been no adverse CAG report and no adverse impact on the government’s reputation, no cancellation of the licenses by the Supreme Court. And obviously no impact on the investment environment in the country. The Prime Minister would have been quoted “as a man who asserted himself at the right time”.
In the coal block allocation, his culpability was higher since he himself was the Cabinet Minister for Coal. His choice of the Ministers of State was a suspect. The coal blocks were being allocated on the basis of recommendations of the party. The allocation had been linked to the Party’s fund raising campaign. There was no objectivity. There was no objectivity in the criteria for allocation. If in 2006 and 2007, the Prime Minister as a Coal Minister had followed the criteria of auctioning – something which he himself had decided in 2004, the coal scam would not have taken place. He allowed Congressmen to act as sweat equity beneficiaries and rentiers. Media reports indicate that his Attorney General had admitted before the highest court that the allocation could have unintentionally gone wrong. In the process power generation which is vital to this country’ economic development has suffered. India with 200 years coal reserve is today importing coal. It is a drain on the foreign exchange reserves. Additionally, our goal of ‘power on demand’ has not been realized. The power generation has not become a success story. There was an opportunity for the Prime Minister to have refrained from making these allocations. When the CAG report was submitted he could have utilized that as another God sent opportunity to scrap the allocations. Today when the Government admits through its principal law officer that things could have unwittingly gone wrong, there is yet another opportunity to correct the error. If this opportunity is not availed, the country stands to suffer in terms of delay in power generation. The Prime Minister and the Government continue to suffer from an image of indecisiveness and a taint of corruption.