PM in the dock

The supreme court’s adverse comment on the delay on the part of the prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, in responding to a request for sanction of prosecution of former telecom minister A Raja for corruption in the allocation of 2G spectrum should cause embarrassment to the holder of the country’s highest executive office. The prime minister should actually feel more than embarrassment because the court has rarely directed such pointed criticism at his office. It said that the inaction and silence on Subramanian Swamy’s letter to the prime minister is troubling, and when the reply was made it was not convincing either. The reply said that the request was pre-mature, but the court has found no basis for that reason while the case against Raja was specific.

Dr Swamy wrote to the prime minister in November 2008 and received a reply only in October 2010. There was a delay of 11 months. A number of supreme court judgments and guidelines issued by the Central Vigilance Commission have prescribed a maximum period of three months for grant or denial of such permission. The prime minister’s office is in violation of this and that puts it in bad light. It raises the question whether the errant minister was being protected by the prime minister. The telecom ministry under Raja had claimed that all its decisions on 2G spectrum allocation were within the knowledge and with the support of the prime minister. But the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report, which has exposed huge irregularities in spectrum allocation, has found that the minister had actually ignored the advice of the prime minister and many ministries. The issue then turns out to be whether the prime minister exercised his power of oversight over the decisions and actions of the ministry, when it became clear that they were irregular.

The court has sought an explanation from the prime minister over the delay in action on Dr Swamy’s request. The people also need convincing that no extraneous considerations influenced the PMO’s soft-pedalling  of the issue, in spite of Dr Swamy’s request and other warnings. If Raja’s wrong-doing, which caused a gigantic loss to the nation, was ignored because his party was a coalition partner whose support is crucial for the government, that amounts to a failure of prime ministerial responsibility. Dr Singh is known for his personal integrity and clean image. His explanation to the court will be watched with interest by the nation.

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