Home Columns Books Profile Contact
Between the line

Two PMs in the dock
February 16, 2012


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 quarters.

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 months.

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

© Copyright 2008, All rights reserved.