CBI judge not judging Manmohan Singh kindly

As a CBI special court judge Bharat Parashar decided to ignore the premier investigating agency’s conclusion that there is no prosecutable evidence against the former prime minister Manmohan Singh, it became evident that he was not going to judge the ‘spotlessly clean” economist doctor kindly. Judge Parashar issued summons to the man whose reputation for ‘integrity, honesty and probity’ goes beyond India’s shores. The man who ushered in the era of economic liberalism is now in the dock. This quite opposed to his own assumption that history would judge him more kindly than the contemporary media.

Even if there is an element of personal sympathy for Dr Singh among senior BJP leaders, the CBI court’s decision admirably fits the ruling party’s agenda. It drives home the point that under Dr. Singh’s stewardship the two successive UPA coalitions were corrupt. As the BJP leaders cite the figures of the revenues that would be earned from the coal and spectrum allocations with undisguised glee, they also make the point that they know the art of revenue maximisation from resources, and this also proves the UPA’s failure. Logically, for them Dr Singh is the man guilty in the process.

In the public domain, with the attention spans consumed by breaking news on 24×7 television channels, no one has the time to pause and realise that Dr Singh in effect has been ‘hand-picked and chosen’ as a target precisely for the same reasons that are ascribed to his failures as prime minister. The BJP voices have described him as a politically weak person who could not stand up to the pressures of the Congress party (read Sonia Gandhi) and thus did not follow the auction route. Conveniently forgetting that the BJP’s own chief ministers at that time were opposed to following this auction route.

Then again the same BJP leaders, who now grandly talk about cooperative federalism, forget that Dr Singh was actually the forerunner of this idea, when in the Hindalco case, he endorsed the Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s recommendation for the allocation of 15 percent of the Talabira-II coal mines for Hindalco. The court wants to prosecute him for this decision. Instead, they point towards his ‘guilt’ as he is even now considered politically weak.

No one holds a brief for corrupt politicians. They all deserve the maximum punishment. But then to equate the former telecom minister A Raja, even in theory and compare him with Dr Singh is perhaps the greatest injustice that can be done to him. Raja through his actions in the 2-G spectrum allocations was completely guided by his personal motives. When it comes to Dr Singh no one has even dared to allege that in the Hindalco case, he was guided by his personal profit motive. In so far as the act of a minister or a prime minister making a recommendation for a corporate entity is concerned, then this is the part of the essential duties while running the country. To cite just one fact, the annual budget carries details of the revenue foregone by the government. Every year this figure runs into lakhs of crores, and all finance ministers and prime ministers down the decades have taken this decision. Above all the budgets have been passed almost unanimously every year by the two houses of Parliament. Is it anyone’s case that these revenues foregone have not benefitted any corporate entity?

Indeed, it is the essence of political democracy that the politicians in power take decisions that benefit the people and corporate entities. What is at the core when a chief minister invites a company like Tata to set up its Nano plant in his state and offers land and tax concessions? Doesn’t the corporate sector benefit from it? We may talk of revenue maximisation or auction of resources, but let us be clear that it is the business of the government of the day to make sure that all businesses in India get to grow. Facilitating this growth and creating an environment that works for easing the conduct of business lies at the core of the Modi sarkar’s Make in India programme. So, when a CBI court decides to prosecute Dr. Singh for his decision in the Hindalco case, there are legitimate questions around this Make in India idea.

The prime minister of India is in effect its chief executive, although to use that expression is to limit the role and the contribution of most of these people who have held this post since independence. Yet, it is his power to take executive decisions that puts him in that position of primacy. We know that the judges can haul anyone — including the prime minister — for wrong doing. The power of judiciary has been lauded and asserted in the past whenever it has acted against persons holding high offices. In the case of Dr Singh, the first step in such a judicial review has been taken. The judge has indeed come to a conclusion that notwithstanding the CBI’s assertion that there is no prosecutable evidence against the former prime minister the case must go on. Now his belief/conclusion would be tested in his court. In the sense that the proceedings in the case would reveal as to what kind of evidence, the judge expects to unfold in his court.

The Congress show of solidarity for Dr Singh is just one part of the battle that lies ahead. The real test is also for Dr Singh himself who has always maintained that he is open for any kind of scrutiny. He has expressed confidence that this trial gives him the opportunity to prove his innocence. But there is a larger question that begs attention. What kind of a treatment do we mete out to people who have spent their life time in the service of the nation? Do we haul them in public courts for parking ticket like offences? Dr Singh is not without critics, but there is the ultimate question about the grace and decency that should be the topmost elements in any country’s behaviour. But then from Nirbhaya to former prime ministers we seem to revel in utterly bad behaviour.

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