The hullabaloo over corruption charges leveled against the UPA government, which is already beleaguered with string of scams, has reached its crescendo after its two cabinet ministers were allegedly found involved in wrongdoings.  Pawan Bansal, minister of railways, landed in row after the CBI arrested his nephew for taking bribe to fix top level promotion in Railway Board, whereas Ashwani Kumar in capacity of  law minister, courted controversy after vetting the CBI report on coal block allocations. Earlier, the Congress-led UPA government defended both the ministers, but with the situation getting worse, they axed both the ministers from the Union Cabinet, citing political accountability and moral value. The credibility of the UPA government has, undoubtedly, touched its nadir. The second part of budget session was washed out owing to the pandemonium over the government’s bid to safeguard both the ministers. It happened at a time when several important legislations, some of them being related to the development of the nation, had to get parliamentary approval. This was a sheer obduracy of the ruling dispensation that the parliament session finished off without delivering concrete results. Not only are the treasury benches rather opposition parties too responsible for stalling the parliamentary business. BJP made no efforts and commitment to ensure smooth functioning of the parliament. It seems that BJP was taking political mileage over embarrassment of UPA in the wake of Coalgate and Railgate. The saffron party needs to underline the fact that problems of the country can be solved only through a proper debate in the Parliament rather than making hue and cry in the media and passing the buck to the government.

When Anna Hazare staged agitation for bringing effective Lokpal to check corruption, almost all political parties got scared to see the massive protest and expressed their solidarity with the Gandhian leader to eradicate rot and sleaze deeply rooted in the system. It was the same time when the 2G spectrum scam unearthed and several top bureaucrats landed in jails. The incident forced the mandarins to go through the files meticulously before clearing them. However, the nephew of Pawan Bansal, who is said to be closer of the Prime Minister and had earned his image of probity, allegedly managed to indulge in the corruption. Bansal’s clarification that he has nothing to do with his nephew’s business is hard to digest. The facts emerged from the CBI probe reflect the sorry state of Indian railways. Ministers’ kin have been getting undue benefit by misusing their offices and powers. Pawan Bansal is also not immune to it. It would be better to make a separate law to investigate the growing assets of political leaders so that strict action can be taken against them if found guilty. The investigating agency should zoom out its scan to the properties of relatives of political leaders as well.

When a big scam erupts, the investigation work is generally carried out by the CBI whose functioning itself is under lens, going by the scathing comment of the Supreme Court in the context of coal scam. Irked over the interference into the CBI report regarding coal scam, the Apex Court termed the premier agency as ‘caged parrot’. Gauging the gravity of situation, the government formed a Group of Ministers (GoMs) to comply with SC order in order to insulate the probe agency from government interference. But it’s difficult to say that whether the GoMs find a way to make the CBI an autonomous body as for the past few years the country’s premier probe agency has been a tool in the hands of ruling dispensation to serve its political interests.  

The case of Ashwani Kumar is something different. Being a Law Minister, Ashwani Kumar tried to influence the CBI report regarding coal scam. Unfortunately, both the ministers were being defended by the Congress and the government until the SC scolded both the CBI and the ruling establishment. It’s ridiculous that government defended Ashwani Kumar citing the reason that the matter is sub-judice, while the Apex Court seriously took the issue of vetting the CBI report. Despite SC’s stern comment, those who were defending the Law Minister didn’t accept any wrongdoing in it. How can the Central government representatives turn so muddle-headed? Why did they hope that the SC won’t take it seriously at a time when general perception in the country was that the Law Minister had done a gross offence?  

Till date, neither Prime Minister Manmohan Singh nor any member of Gandhi family was directly held responsible for the irregularities during UPA I and UPA II. But Singh was targeted by the opposition when his government sought resignation from A Raja, former Telecom Minister, after giving him a clean chit in 2G scam and repeating the same in case of former Union law minister Ashwani Kumar. The BJP seems to be in a festive mood after the ouster of two Union ministers from the cabinet recently. The party considers the recent developments as its victory and has started targeting the Prime Minister with the heckling questions. Ashwani Kumar is known for sharing a close camaraderie with the Prime Minister, thereby the suspicion assumes significance that CBI’s status report on coal scam might have been vetted to dispel the raging allegations against the Prime Minister’s Office. Notably, the Prime Minister himself was in charge of the Ministry of Coal from 2006 to 2009. Earlier, A Raja too had made embarrassing revelations against the PMO in 2G case. According to Raja, the Prime Minister was informed about all the decisions on fixing the prices of the spectrums. Raja wanted to present his views before the Joint Parliamentary Committee probing 2G scam, but his request was turned down by the panel chairman PC Chacko. Manmohan Singh has been able to trash such allegations with the help of his squeaky-clean image. But in the changed circumstances, he is required to respond to the allegations being made against his office in connection with the 2G spectrum allocations and coal scam.

(An original copy of the article published in Hindi on May 12, 2013 translated by the English editorial. The author is the Group Editor of Dainik Jagran)

Title : UPA sinking in credibility crisis