|One month is a long time in the life of a government which is incapacitated by policy paralysis. So far we knew that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was an honest man, even though many of his ministers were mired in corruption.Recently, Team Anna managed to find some smouldering ammunition against Singh. In this game of mudslinging, some of the mud seems to have stuck on his clean image as Singh has a case to answer.
Team Anna’s Arvind Kejriwal got hold of a Comptroller and Accountant General report that blamed Prime Minister’s Office of allocating coal mining blocks, worth Rs 1,86,000 crore, virtually free to some favoured mining companies. Singh held the charge of Coal Ministry between 2006 and 2009.
In recent months, the government has been excessively relying for fire fighting on some cleaver lawyers, for example Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Salman Khursheed, Manish Tiwari and Abhishek Manu Singhavi (who has now been removed due to a sex scandal). These men, with the help of some supportive TV news channels, sing-along newspapers and friendly journalists, have used every trick in the book to raise doubts about the credibility of Team Anna.
That’s why many stakeholders in corruption unceasingly argued or rather screamed that the inflated travel bills Kiran Bedi were a bigger act of corruption than the monumental scams hatched by A Raja and Suresh Kalmadi.
Despite huge pressure Kejriwal did not wilt. He pointed out that before 2006 the Government used to allocate 3 or 4 coal blocks in a year. But under Singh’s three year tenure the coal ministry allocated 145 blocks, mostly to private companies, at a nominal rate of Rs. 100 per ton, while the market rate was between Rs.1,800 to 2,000. “The allotments were made without transparency, without protecting the interest of public exchequer and without any competitive process”, Kejriwal argued.
According to this report the PMO overruled the coal secretary PC Parakh, who had repeatedly warned that these allocations must be made through a transparent process of competitive bidding to secure revenue maximisation.
Later, in an interview with CNN-IBN, Parakh said that the prime minister could have pushed for competitive bidding. He said that neither the industry nor the netas favoured auctioning these coal blocks as they got them for far cheaper through existing screening process. Parakh confirmed that when he pushed for auctions, he was overruled by the prime minister.
The government continued to maintain that there was no need for investigation of these baseless suggestions. And that it was a conspiracy to tarnish the clean image of the prime minister.
The refusal to investigate infuriated the lawyer Prashant Bhushan so much that he equated Singh with Shikhandi, a character in the epic Mahabharat. Shikhandi was born as a girl child to King Drupad of Panchala. During the Mahabharat war Arjun hid behind him to launch a devastating volley of arrows to mortally wound the might warrior Bhishma. Bhushan argued that many corrupt ministers of the present government were hiding behind this honest image of the prime minister.
A few days later Singh himself ruled out any investigation against his cabinet colleagues who have been accused of various acts of corruption. A furious Kiran Bedi called him as Dhritrashtra, the blind king who failed to see the transgressions of his evil son Duryodhana.