A Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office says changing the composition of the Office of Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) is "under active consideration" of the government. Within days, the 2G Spectrum auction turns out to be flop show vis-à-vis the government's revenue expectations and union ministers virtual celebrate their disastrous performance. They work overtime to mock at the CAG for saying that Raja's method of selling scarce spectrum had caused a notional loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore. They also make oblique references to judicial interference in governance. In short, the scam-ridden United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government headed by Mr Manmohan Singh wants to pretend that its image is still snow white and all its arguments against the CAG and the judiciary in was right. The government is perfect. The fault lies with institutions which are mandated by the Constitution to protect the rights of citizens.
Despite his repeated denials, the fact is that Mr V Narayanasamy, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office did tell PTI that the government was in favour of altering the composition of the CAG. When the correspondent of the news agency specifically asked him about the recommendations of the Shunglu Committee that the CAG should be made a multi-member body, he said "It is under active consideration". The minister, generally good-natured and balanced in his long career (he has been an MP for 27 years), appears to have been caught off guard in the present juncture. Such is the duplicity in this government that it is forcing even credible voices like that of Narayansamy to sound incredible. While issuing the denial, the minister claimed that even the Prime Minister had publicly declared that there was no more to change the composition of the CAG.
Following the poor response of the industry to the 2G Spectrum auction, Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal and the Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mr.Manish Tiwari have been taunting and challenging the CAG and asking "where is the Rs 1.76 lakh crore". This is probably the first instance in the history of democratic India where union ministers rejoice over their poor performance and even gloat over it. They think that the blame for the poor outcome of this auction can be placed at the door of the CAG, who had indicted the government for the scandalous way in which the government had sold spectrum during A Raja's tenure as Telecom Minister. As if this is not enough, Kapil Sibal has also tried to indirectly point fingers at the Supreme Court by saying that constitutional authorities should not intrude into the area of policy making.
Where does the fault lie? The truth is that the telecom industry was cold to the auction in 2012 because of the government's faltering policies and its poor performance on the economic front over the last three years. Hit by scam after scam, the government's image took such a severe beating that there is a major trust deficit as far as this government is concerned. This is the reason why the telecom industry shied away from the bids.
Secondly, union ministers say the judiciary and the CAG should stay clear of policy making. This has always been the case, but what should constitutional authorities do when they see the shameful and partisan manner in which a minister like A Raja behaved while selling spectrum? Should they allow the looters a free hand or step in to save the
constitutional right of 1.2 billion people to good governance?
One saw an equally shameful assault on the higher judiciary by the Congress Party in the 1970s and particularly during the dreaded Emergency, when ministers and senior party leaders openly threatened Supreme Court judges. Since the days of Indira Gandhi, the Congress has always been uncomfortable with independent constitutional authorities. Such has been its allergy to strong institutions that it openly canvassed for a "committed judiciary" (committed not to the Constitution but to the Congress Party) and tried to pack the courts with "committed" judges. Such was the party's gross interference that the entire system of judicial appointments were called into question, leading to the Supreme Court decision that appointments to the higher judiciary would henceforth be made by a collegium of judges. Long years have gone by but the Executive has not been able to regain its voice vis-à-vis judicial appointments in the country. The Congress Party, which sought to corrupt the system of appointments, is wholly responsible for this situation. The party's complete lack of commitment to core constitutional values has been apparent elsewhere as well. One has seen the party appoint persons like Navin Chawla, who the Shah Commission said is "unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others.", as an Election Commissioner. He even later became the Chief Election Commissioner. Let us also not forget the graceless conduct of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then Home Minister P Chidambaram, as members of the committee to choose the Central Vigilance Commissioner. They overruled Ms Sushma Swaraj, the Leader of the Opposition and the third member of the committee and chose PJ Thomas, against whom charges were pending in a Kerala court. We all know how long Mr Thomas lasted in this job. It is therefore no surprise that the Congress fusillade is now directed against the CAG. Make no mistake. The two events - the moves to weaken the CAG and the poor outcome of the 2G auction - could well be related. Given the government's scope and inclination for mischief, one wonders whether there was a hidden government hand in the poor bids for 2 G and the possibility of cartelization among telecom companies. In any case, this is a fit case for the Competition Commission of India to investigate.
We must also ask the government as to why it is instantly in love with the recommendations of the Shunglu Committee, but is dragging its feet on several very important recommendations by national commissions. For example, the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution headed by a venerable judge, former Chief Justice MN Venkatachalaiah, recommended that a multi-party committee should select the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners and State Election Commissioners. This recommendation has been endorsed by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission that was headed by Mr Veerappa Moily, currently the Petroleum Minister. The Second ARC said a collegium headed by the Prime Minister and comprising the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha should make these appointments. For the sake of democracy and the sanctity of the Constitution and in order to keep out elements like Navin Chawla from high constitutional offices, the government must first implement this recommendation, rather than allow its ministers to hop around like headless chickens over some Shunglu Committee Report.
Union Ministers like Kapil Sibal should not be allowed to get away with this argument that constitutional authorities are cramping the style of the government and not allowing it to carry out its executive functions. There is a familiar ring to this argument. This is exactly the line taken by Indira Gandhi against the courts and the media in the 1970s. Both these institutions were accused of obstructing the government in carrying out welfare measures. It was also said that those who spoke or wrote against the government were doing so at the behest of a "foreign hand". Shall we then accuse the Congress Party of trying to weaken and even wreck the independence of our Constitutional institutions at the behest of another "foreign hand"?