Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan have different stars to guide
them. The Supreme Court of one country saves the
prime minister while
of the other asks his counterpart to appear before it for contempt.
The cases have no similarity. Yet
the message they convey is the same:
the judiciary is independent and recognizes no pulls from any
The lapse noted against prime minister Manmoahn Singh is that his
office (PMO) did not give sanction for 16 months to
the prosecution of
Telecommunications Minister A.Raja, who has been guilty of granting
licenses to mobile companies,
(known as the 2G spectrum scandal)
arbitrarily and illegally.
The Supreme Court’s exonerates Dr. Manmohan Singh on the grounds that
the nature of the PM’s office is such that he
cannot look into the
details of every case. The PM’s advisors were ‘duty bound to apprise
him of the seriousness of the
allegations’ against the minister to
enable the PM to take appropriate steps.
The court is justified in finding faults with PM’s advisors and
officers for having failed him. But it is difficult to believe that
PMO did not inform Manmohan Singh about the sanction and that too when
it had been pending for 16 months. In fact, the reply of PMO on
persistent reminders was that the matter had been referred to Central
Bureau of Investigation (CBI) when the sanction was not dependent on
its inquiry. Apparently, some other forces influenced the delay.
That the matter is an embarrassment for the PM goes without saying
because his cabinet colleague was involved. Yet the explanation does
not wash. True, the PM, heading a coalition government, had to be
careful about the sensitivity of his ally, the DMK, which naturally
backed Raja, its senior member. The public is not, however, concerned
with the compulsions of alliance. It is a political matter which
Congress President Sonia Gandhi has to sort out with the DMK Chief M.
Karunanidhi. It seems that the 16 DMK members in the Lok Sabha are so
crucial to the government’s tenure that it can go to any extent to
placate them. Raja’s case shows it.
The correspondence between Raja and PM makes it clear that the PMO
knew how Raja was going about favouring certain parties, flouting all
rules and norms. Still PMO did not do anything. Either it was
instructed not to take any action or the office itself was mixed up.
Whatever the truth, the cursory attitude by PMO or at best the
political considerations before it, does not lessen the moral
responsibility of either PM or that of Sonia Gandhi, who presides over
the alliance with the DMK. I do not know whether any head will roll in
PMO. But something is called for in view of the Supreme Court’s
criticism and PM’s noting, “Please examine and let me know the facts”
on Raja’s recommendation.
To be one up, PMO has hailed the decision: “We welcome the fact that
both the learned judges have completely vindicated the prime minister
while appreciating the onerous duties of his office”. Still the
officers owe an explanation for sitting over the sanction for 16
My feeling is that PMO has grown so large that there is a confusion
of authority and duplication of work. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru
had only one secretary, Tirlok Singh, who was also supervising over
the rehabilitation of refugees those days. When Lal Bahadur Shastri
became the Prime Minister, he chose his secretary L.K.Jha who began
spreading his wings, and began wielding authority. Still it was a
small office. The real expansion was when Mrs. Indira Gandhi assumed
power. She turned it into a parallel government. She knew no bounds.
All ministries have one of their officers working in PMO. It became a
mini government. Manmohan Singh has kept the format in tact. The
result can be seen from the fact that PMO has finger in every pie, all
departments of government.
Still another blow to PMO, if not the PM, is the Supreme Court’s
cancellation of all the 122 licenses which Raja had issued. The Court
has directed them to be auctioned. The inquiry, as the Court has
indicated, should be from the time when the BJP government was in
power 2001. I recall when I was the Rajya Sabha member, Parmod Mahajan
was the Telecommunications minister. It was an open secret that his
palm had to be greased before obtaining a license. Even Prime Minister
Atal Behari Vajpayee, a tall person, was helpless in curbing him.
Again, it is the issue of cleanliness which is at the core of contempt
notice by the Pakistan Supreme Court against Prime Minister Raza Yusuf
Gillani. He was directed to write to the Swiss government to reopen
the cases of graft against President Asif Zardari. That General Pervez
Musharraf had closed the cases against him and his wife the late
Benazir Bhuto through National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) is a
fact. Yet the Court in its wisdom has reopened the cases of
corruption. It has declared the ordinance ultra virus of the
constitution. Gillani’s defence is that the Pakistan President enjoys
immunity under the constitution. He (Gillani) is helpless in
initiating any proceeding against President Zardari.
In a way, both the Prime Ministers in India and Pakistan face a moral
issue. Gillani can be hauled up for contempt and lose his office.
Manmohan Singh can own the moral responsibility for PMO’s lapses and
offer to quit. This is normal in democracy. However, the matter will
be decided by the elected representatives of Parliament in India.
Pakistan has the trappings of democracy, the elected national
assembly, but the real power lies with the army.
However, Pakistan has come to have a third chamber, the Supreme Court.
That it is being backed by the army is a coincidence. It is the army
which has pushed the case of Gillani who had displeased it by the‘memogate’, the Zardari government asking America to intervene because
of the threat of army coup. The commission which the Supreme Court has
appointed is not to the liking of President Zardari and his Prime
Minister Gillani. But they can do little because the commission has
been appointed by the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary has retrieved the
independence of Pakistan’s judiciary to a large extent. Yet the fact
remains that the high courts have no jurisdiction to accept petitions
against military courts even in case of civilians during the
prosecution. India faces no such problems. But corruption has made
every institution effete. Once in a while a Supreme Court decision
comes to sustain hope. That is also true of Pakistan. EOM