Former Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), Vinod Rai, who has been accused by the erstwhile Union Telecom Minister Andimuthu Raja of being the “contract killer” responsible for the annihilation of the Manmohan Singh government, was never the first choice of the UPA for the Constitutional position.
Speaking during the release function of his book, 2G Saga Unfolds brought out by Har Anand publications, Raja had demanded a thorough investigation to ascertain whether there was a deep-rooted conspiracy behind Rai’s appointment and if so, who had provided the supari for the execution by this “contract killer”. Although Raja was unwilling to make any guesses on this front, yet it is apparent that Rai’s selection was facilitated by T.K.A. Nair, the then principal secretary to the Prime Minister as also by the former Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram.
In a clear-cut reference to his appointment, Arun Bhatnagar, a distinguished bureaucrat and former Secretary to the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by Sonia Gandhi, has stated that Rai’s name was finalised, “during a late night call at the Prime Minister’s house where the influential Finance Minister was also present”. This was arranged by Nair, who is described by Bhatnagar on page 140-141 of his book, India: Shedding the Past, Embracing the Future as the “notorious intriguer”.
According to well placed sources, Pulok Chatterjee, who was with the PMO in a senior position and subsequently succeeded Nair as the principal secretary, had proposed the name of M.N. Prasad, a 1972 batch IAS officer of the Bihar cadre, said to be close to the Prime Minister. Prasad was amongst the favourites of Dr Manmohan Singh and had thus been shortlisted after careful consideration. It was during this time, a dinner was hosted by Rai, Secretary, Financial Services in the Finance Ministry, where top bureaucrats including Nair, Chatterjee and the then Cabinet Secretary, K.M. Chandrasekhar were amongst those who were invited. The theme of the evening was to do something concrete for Rai, post-retirement. Nair stepped in, ensuring that he became the final choice of the UPA. Prasad subsequently was compensated by being sent to the World Bank as Executive Director.
While it is for top functionaries of the UPA to throw more light on the matter, Raja’s demand is not without a reason for an independent inquiry or investigation to probe Rai for “defrauding and misleading” the people of India and in the process precipitating the fall of the UPA government. The DMK leader was the sole UPA minister who spent 15 months in incarceration at the Tihar jail. He was exonerated, through a detailed judgment, by Judge O.P. Saini in December last year. Raja has hinted that there was a conspiracy hatched by vested interests which included powerful politicians, bureaucrats, corporate honchos and sections of media. He has made serious allegations against his Cabinet colleagues and vocalised his perplexity on the reasons for Chidambaram, Pranab Mukherjee and Manmohan Singh keeping mum while he was being hounded by government agencies despite them being aware of the reality.
Raja has provided sufficient indications of a power tussle within the UPA, aimed at a change of leadership, and has simultaneously said that the post-retirement benefits to Rai by the present government, distinctly exhibit that at some stage or the other he was hand in glove with them. However, he has been explicitly hesitant to give a clean chit to those who served in the UPA at the time.
Read in conjunction with certain revelations contained in Arun Bhatnagar’s book, Raja’s charges provide an insight into how the PMO functioned during that period. In his book, Bhatnagar has written that the first instalment of loans extended to the fugitive industrialist, Vijay Mallya was dispersed while Rai was the Secretary in the Finance Ministry under Chidambaram. He cites current Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s statement in Parliament on 9 February 2017 that not a rupee’s benefit went to Mallya after the NDA came to power. His loans, therefore, were approved while the UPA was in charge.
Bhatnagar, unlike Raja, who appears to be soft on Manmohan Singh, goes all out to attack the former Prime Minister. In his words, “beneath of the veneer of humility, too good to be true, a prisoner of a level of ego not quite commensurate with his attainments, academic and otherwise, he was able to have his way in matters of appointments”. However, he could do little for a bureaucrat who did not find favour with 10, Janpath and later went to Bihar as its government’s adviser and is now with the BJP. Similarly, a former Foreign Secretary, said to be rather close to Singh could not be sent to the Commonwealth Secretariat since a family loyalist of the Gandhis received precedence for the coveted position.
Both curiously and strangely, despite Raja’s book being released on a high profile platform, and Bhatnagar’s forthright narration in his own words, the top functionaries of the previous government have remained silent—does this deafening silence speak a story of its own? The truth, no doubt, will come out one day.