Does anyone remember the Bofors pay-off-scam? Never mind, the powerful, Delhi-based Italian middleman, Ottavio Quattrocchi, who called the Gandhis “close family friends”. The apparently honest Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was so anxious to bolster the already huge pile of “dalali” from various deals done with successive Congress governments that he surreptitiously rushed a senior law officer, the late Bhagawan Dutta, to London to put tens of millions of dollars stolen from the Indian taxpayers in that high-profile crook’s pockets. But let us leave Quattrocchi alone. He is probably accounting for his long career of looting and plundering poor Indians somewhere in the other world.
Instead, let us note that at two different times two different judges of the Delhi High Court had suo motu quashed the Bofors FIR. The late Justice M.K. Chawla attracted so much ire and abuse from the legal fraternity that he was denied the customary farewell given to retiring judges. Years later, Judge J.D. Kapur, weeks ahead of his retirement, too nixed the Bofors case, finding nothing in it but a sheer waste of taxpayers’ money on investigation and prosecution. Days after retirement, Justice Kapur found himself ensconced in a high-paying sinecure under Sheila Dikshit’s government. It is Justice Kapur’s controversial order, which the CBI failed to challenge in a higher court.
Now, let us come to the handiwork of Special CBI Judge O.P. Saini in the 2G scam. His free pass to all the crooks who perpetrated the 2G scam—it does not cease to be a scam simply because Judge Saini has acquitted them, just as Aarushi Talwar has not come back to life after the acquittals of the accused in the murder case—will not leave the judiciary unscathed.
We do not have an iota of doubt that the reasoning behind acquittals is highly flawed. To blame the officers whenever the court cannot justify the abuse of the policy to favour the select bribe-givers, is wholly unacceptable. Just as we cannot hold the court registrar or stenos responsible for Justice Saini’s verdict, there is no way poor officers can be held guilty for a fraud committed by Telecom Minister A. Raja. Also, to find Raja’s actions unconstitutional, which the Supreme Court did in 2012 while cancelling 122 licences, and not find it a corrupt act when a plethora of evidence stared the court in the eye is a travesty of justice.
The money trail, the unaccounted deposit of Rs 200 crore by the beneficiary companies in the Kalaignar TV owned by a prominent accused close to Raja, the transfer of bribes through circuitous banking channels by Shahid Balwa, one of the accused-beneficiaries, would honestly lead anyone to only one conclusion: that these were payments for the licences he had issued through a crooked first-come, first-serve system. It was not manna fallen from the skies in the lap of Raja and his party bosses.
There is more clinching evidence that the court ignored or rationalised to exonerate the accused. The fact that even the first-come, first serve policy was arbitrarily changed to favour the bribe-givers, the fact that the minister personally altered the incriminating press release favouring two particular companies, Swan and Unitech, cried out for convictions. If the gross miscarriage of justice, as reflected in Judge Saini’s questionable order, blames the CBI, in our humble view, the all-clear verdict also puts the judiciary in the dock. Let us not, for a moment, pretend that the judiciary is lily-white.
Aside from putting a question mark over the Supreme Court order cancelling the impugned 122 spectrum licences, Judge Saini’s verdict can further embolden the crooks to game the system for private gain. The fact that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was fully aware that a scam was afoot and, instead of preventing it he merely wanted to keep his hands clean, was also there in black and white before Judge Saini. He rationalised the letter the PMO wrote to that effect to fit his pre-conceived conclusions.
The fact that Judge Saini had earlier exonerated P. Chidambaram for giving nod to the sale of spectrum in 2008 at the 2001 prices, ought to have provided an inkling about Thursday’s verdict. Even if Chidambaram did not personally benefit from the heist, his approval to Raja cannot be justified. Just as Judge Saini’s verdict does not make him right even if he stands to gain nothing personally from it.
And this argument about lack of proof is also overblown. Quite clearly, the burden of proof in a bribery case cannot be as rigorous, as stringent as, say, in a case of murder. Here the bribery trail was clear, the beneficiaries were clear and the abuser of the minister’s power was clear. Yet they all walk free. And here we have the good Judge Saini lamenting the “unfounded propaganda against the UPA”. What happened to the UPA as a result of the scam—and which continues to be a scam despite Thursday’s clean chit—cannot be Judge Saini’s concern in pure judicial terms. Invariably, powerful politicians and moneybags seem to get their way even in the courts of justice.
Following the atrocious acquittals, the most craven response came not from the accused, but from the former Prime Minister. Like the king who ran naked proclaiming his honesty, the mealy-mouthed Singh gloated at the so-called vindication when he knows full well that a huge scam was committed under his watch. And less said the better about sections of the media which vied with the Congress leaders in singing hosannas to Raja, Kanimozhi and others who had just been freed from paying for the scam they had certainly perpetrated.
Thursday was a sad day for the constitutional edifice erected by the founding fathers. All institutions, including the judiciary, stood denuded of moral authority while those who have pelted the system rule the roast. The only losers are ordinary Indians who repose trust in institutional justice. Nobody, just nobody, is true to the Constitution. And the most damage is done by consummate politicians like Manmohan Singh, who, while flaunting personal honesty, allowed unremitting loot and plunder of natural resources by the Congress’ crony-capitalists.