The Lede Exclusive – Fire And Fury: A Raja’s Angst On 2G
The Lede brings you an exclusive first look into the soon-to-be-published book “2G Saga Unfolds” written by the former union Telecom Minister
It is no holds barred as far as A Raja is concerned in his book “2G Saga Unfolds”, all set to be launched on January 20 by publishers Har Anand Publications.
Seven years of being under the 2G cloud has taken its toll and Raja brings out all guns at a chosen few, who he claims, acted with “malice” and “ulterior motives” to taint and bring down the UPA 2 government during whose tenure he was the union Telecom Minister.
The book is written as it would be, by a lawyer – factual in most part but also emotional, bitter and furious in many instances. Andimuthu Sathyaseelan, who later came to be known as Andimuthu Raja, a nickname mockingly given to him by relatives who decreed that he sauntered and spoke like a king, hailed from humble beginnings in Perambalur, Tamil Nadu.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) leader, the late Murasoli Maran, father of Kalanithi and Dayanidhi Maran, would be his political mentor and introduce him to DMK chief M Karunanidhi. In Raja, Karunanidhi saw a young and bright lawyer who was also well read on Tamil literature and history.
In 1996 began Raja’s journey as a Parliamentarian, with the first NDA government led by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. By 1999, he would win his seat again in the general elections and became a Minister of State for Rural Development. In 2004, he would become an MP again and become the Minister for Environment and Forests. In May 2007, following the resignation of the DMK’s Dayanidhi Maran, A Raja took over as union Telecom Minister.
Raja targets his guns at the following – Vinod Rai, former Comptroller Auditor General (CAG) who “exposed” the Rs 1.76 lakh crore “scam” which has subsequently been dismissed by the CBI court after seven years of trial. The other individual he has targeted is Sunil Mittal, Chairman, Bharti Enterprises. Former Solicitor General GE Vahanvati and senior bureaucrats are not spared either in his book. And finally, the UPA 2 government that, he feels failed him in the midst of the media storm over 2G.
On Former CAG Vinod Rai
Rai, the former CAG and a Padma awardee, is attacked over and over again by Raja, as if on cross at a trial.
In the Introduction to his book, Raja says this about Rai – “Malicious vigilantism that makes a mockery of his constitutional responsibilities; Disgraceful purchase of self-promotion at the cost of Truth and Integrity; Wanton sacrifice of national progress to further perverted political goals; Corrupt commercialism couched in moral rhetoric and veiled altruism.”
Raja demolishes each and every one of the CAG’s claims in his book, much as he did during the trial before the CBI court in Patiala House in the past seven years. He states that despite the Department of Telecom and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India providing the CAG with various clarifications and explanations, Rai was blinkered in his approach and even rejected the advice of his colleagues who had actually conducted the audits on the field.
“It is my contention that the sanctity of the CAG was severely compromised by its then head Mr. Vinod Rai. Mr. Rai clearly had ulterior motives in overreaching the bounds of his constitutional function. He tried to foist his personal (or influenced) agenda by sensationalising information and creating the appearance of procedural lapses and financial misappropriation,” writes Raja.
Here is one instance that Raja cites in his book about how Vinod Rai allegedly handpicked sentences and statements that would point to a “scam” in 2G spectrum allocation. The reference in question is to a note by then Additional Secretary to PMO Pulok Chatterji handed to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 06 January 2008 in which Chatterji had advised that “ideally in a situation where spectrum is scarce, it should be auctioned.” Rai, in his book, claims that the Prime Minister asked for a “deeper examination” on spectrum auction versus first-come-first-served on 07 November 2007, following which Chatterji had issued the note. Raja states that the CAG had only “latched on” to certain portions of that 24-page note, ignoring the rest.
“In paragraph 14, we find those lines that Mr. Rai latched-on to, “14. Ideally, in a situation where the spectrum is scarce, it should be auctioned. However, uncontrolled auction can lead to inflated bids, unacceptably high prices for consumer and threaten the financial sustainability of the industry.” Mr. Rai conveniently does not bother with the “however” aspect of Mr. Chatterji’s analysis, thus blatantly misrepresenting the information. In fact, paragraph 15 of the note continues this thought process, “15. At present there are licensed operators who have excess spectrum while at the same time there are many pending applications awaiting allocation of spectrum. It is not practically possible to cancel the spectrum already allotted to operators.” But for Mr. Rai only that one sentence from the whole file was of relevance,” writes Raja.
Continues Raja – “Among the statutory and the constitutional institutions involved in 2G issues, some failed to understand, and some failed to discover the facts. The most atrocious is Mr. Rai who did not want to understand even the truth that was discovered by him!”
Raja refers to RP Singh, a former Director General of Audit who was part of the CAG’s team that conducted the audit on the 2G spectrum allocations. “Mr. Singh told the parliamentary panel investigating the 2G spectrum scam that he had been forced to sign on the CAG’s report. He disputed the CAG’s presumptive loss calculation, dubbing the figure of Rs 1.76 lakh crores to be ‘subjective’ and declared that presumptive loss was not part of the accounting code accepted internationally. Responding to cross examination at the JPC on multiple occasions, Mr. Singh said he was only asked to provide inputs for the report, while it was prepared at the CAG headquarters; and that he had deleted the presumptive loss figure from the report, but it was later included by senior officers, evidently at the insistence of Mr. Rai,” he writes.
“Yet,” writes Raja, “Mr. Rai behaved like a cat that shuts its eyes and then declares that the Universe is dark!”
Referring to the 13-day logjam in Parliament when the BJP and the Left stalled proceedings in the Lok Sabha over the 2G scam, Raja accuses Rai of playing a pre-conceived part in the whole drama. “It is my conviction consequent to the whole experience of the trial that there was political motivation to kill UPA-II and Mr. Rai’s was the shoulder on which the gun was placed. It is indeed sad that in spite of having so many intelligence agencies and eminent legal minds at its disposal the UPA-II government could not sense this and only tried to use me as a shield but were still unable to escape the bullet,” he writes.
On Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Mittal
A Raja has been, over the past seven years, vehement in his claims that he was being targeted as he broke a powerful telecom cartel that held sway not just over the sector but also government and politicians. Raja was referring to the COAI – the Cellular Operators’ Association of India, of which Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular and most major telcos are members. The rival association, the AUSPI or the Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India, then had Anil Ambani’s Reliance Communications as its lead member. The clash was over the allocation of GSM spectrum to the existing CDMA players instead of to new companies who would be solely GSM providers.
It is in this context that Raja writes of a mysterious note from the PMO, unbeknownst to the former Prime Minister, arriving at his desk on 02 November 2007 at his New Delhi residence at around 7pm. “Even on cursory reading it could be inferred that the annexure of that letter was penned neither by him nor by his office,” observes Raja in his book. “That attachment could most likely only have been provided by COAI to the PM’s Office as the contents were identical (even if in a different format) to those of the petition filed by them on 23rd October 2007.”
Raja explains why the COAI was so keen on changing policy – “The basic reason behind COAI raising these issues was that they were keen to expand their monopoly as in some states they already enjoyed spectrum to the tune of 10 -12 MHz instead of their legitimate share of 4.4 MHz.”
Raja records in detail his two meetings with Sunil Mittal and the COAI’s attempt to get him to change the policy in their favour. “Mr. Karthi Chidambaram who is an acquaintance called me up one day during the middle of September 2007 and told me that his friend Mr. Sunil Mittal (of Airtel) urgently wanted to speak with me that very day, since he was going abroad later in the night… The social and industry standing of Mr. Mittal, the substantial share of COAI in the Telecom sector and Mr. Karthi Chidambaram’s recommendation made me agree to meet him at 10:30 pm in my camp office.”
Mittal made his case forcefully to Raja, according to the book. “He boasted of his position of influence in the telecom sector as also his personal political clout. He claimed that COAI was used for very cordial relations with all my predecessors in the ministry and he expected “similar cooperation” from me as well which seemed to me extremely contemptuous and cynical.”
Raja claims that he told the telecom bigwig – “Do you fear that somebody will buy me? Let me assure you that there might be a price for me but I don’t think there is anybody in this world rich enough to pay it.” This got Mr. Mittal on the defensive and he denied any intention of implying that. He reiterated his comment about cordial relationship with the ministry and concluded that, “they were prepared for any kind of cordial relationship.” The underlying allusion seemed easy to comprehend and I made it clear to Mr. Mittal that I was not for such one-sided cordiality when what was needed was an objective and neutral atmosphere for the good of the nation.”
The follow-up meeting never happened, according to Raja and he “briefed the PM about this meeting with Mr. Mittal as well as Mr. Karthi Chidambaram’s role in arranging it and ensured that he understood the tenor of this key stake holder and industry leader.”
A series of court cases followed in the TDSAT in October 2007 and then came another meeting with Mittal. Raja says that the meeting went along similar lines as the previous one – with Mittal pushing his case and the Minister sticking to his. “I admired the confidence – even though it had shades of smug conceit – of Mr. Sunil Mittal who probably believed that the Telecom Sector’s governing bodies were obliged to pander to an industry player of his stature… At no point, were they (COAI) willing to concede anything or scale back their demands. This sort of bullying to try to control the workings of the government was not acceptable to me,” he writes.
Raja states that the Prime Minister was in the loop about all of these meetings with Sunil Mittal and the demands of the powerful COAI and its alleged machinations.
One of the strange turns of events was that despite spectrum being available for new companies, previous governments had not allocated them. Raja writes that even the Prime Minister was surprised at finding available spectrum. “I added that even after distributing the additional spectrum desired by COAI and to providers adopting dual technology, there would still be spectrum left over for new licenses. The PM expressed his surprise because he had been repeatedly misinformed that spectrum was not available. Not only the PM but also the Parliament and the general public were never informed about the availability of spectrum until I took over as the Telecom Minister. No initiative had been taken to use this spectrum optimally to increase teledensity and generate additional revenue for the government. The Prime Minister shifted in his seat, looked askance at
me and asked, “Is that so? I have been told that the impediment to the growth of Telecom sector is the non-availability of spectrum. Only on that basis, a GoM has been constituted to release band-width from the Defence Department. How is it possible to have that much of spectrum available for distribution to so many?” I emphatically stated that a stealthy ploy had been stagemanaged in the Telecom Ministry to obfuscate the availability of spectrum and to gather the scattered spectrum only when the time came to assign additional spectrum and increase the monopoly of the existing service providers.”
Raja, at another point writes of the Prime Minister’s support to him in breaking the cartel of powerful large telcos. Raja quotes the Prime Minister as saying – “Some in the Cabinet are supportive of COAI in this issue and some are against it. Corporations are trying to thrust their views not only upon me but also on some senior Ministers”. Without hiding anything I disclosed to the PM the facts related to my discussions with Mr. Sunil Mittal and to all those who had approached me in this context to plead their cause,” writes Raja.
On Former Solicitor General GE Vahanvati
It was on the basis of the late Vahanvati’s testimony to the CBI that Raja was slapped with charges of forging and tampering with records. “Mr. Vahanvati is no more and I have moved past my initial anguish and anger to a feeling of pity for him now,” he writes.
Raja slams Vahanvati for giving false testimony to the CBI that a meeting between himself, Vahanvati and then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee never took place. Raja points to a letter written on 25 March 2011 written by Mukherjee’s personal secretary Manoj Pant to DR Mohanty, Deputy Secretary, Lok Sabha Secretariat that states clearly that the meeting did indeed take place in the first week of December 2007.
Raja cites an interesting anecdote that took place in court during the trial proceedings of the 2G case in February 2013. “Mr. Vahanvati came to the witness Box of the Special CBI court on 27th Feb 2013 and just prior to the lunch break he asked the special judge, “Can I speak to the former Minister? He is well known to me. I want to enquire about his health.” The judge Honourable O.P. Saini said, “Yes. Yes. You can talk with him. He was former Minister. You were then SG. No problem.” Mr. Vahanvati should not have come to me and I regret that I vented the bitterness in
my heart then. He came near me and asked, “Are you aggrieved with me?” I said, “There is nothing to feel sad. But your behaviour did not befit your stature”. He clasped my hands and said, “Please understand my position. Media goes on with whatever they like. I do not have enough of support from the Government too. What can I do?” He felt sorry. I did not want to continue with the conversation, but recalled a poem that was taught to me in my school days. I quoted in Tamil from ‘Nalvazhi’ and translated it for him. The poem alluded that the house of one who gives false testimony would be doomed. I have regretted and been aggrieved by that emotional utterance
ever since Mr. Vahanvati’s sudden demise soon after that conversation,” writes Raja.
On Prime Minister’s Support & The UPA’s ‘Betrayal’
In November 2008, Raja quotes the Prime Minister as stating in the presence of the then Finance Minister that the press campaign on 2G was – “mischievous” and felt
that someone malicious could be “influencing it”.”
On 14 November 2008, when Raja went to hand over his resignation letter to Manmohan Singh, he writes of meeting an anxious man. “The Prime Minister appeared to be gloomy and perturbed. He offered me tea and I handed him my resignation letter. He spoke dejectedly about the whole situation, the oral observations of the Supreme Court and about his name having been unduly dragged down…. I thanked him for the faith he had shown in me as well as his concern and regard for me…. He came up to the door and fondly saw me off.
Raja also speaks of how the UPA, buckling to pressure from the media, decided to back him occasionally and weakly, rather than take up the case on a clear legal footing. “Mr. P. Chidambaram’s stand on the 2G case is still a puzzle to me. He is an administrator of strong acumen, an able lawyer and a seasoned Parliamentarian. Yet, I was surprised to see him shying away from discussing the 2G situation with me and even avoiding speaking to me when we happened to pass each other in the airport,” he writes.
DIG, CBI Palsania is another official who Raja writes of many times in his book. On the day of his arrest, Raja quotes Palsania, the investigating officer – “Mr. Palsania candidly accepted one thing, “It has to be appreciated that you broke the ‘cartel’ which was manipulatively protected in the telecom sector. But the haste you had shown to break it gave rise to many doubts”… Mr. Palsania told me then that they were not in agreement with the view that there was a loss to the exchequer. He also told me that the CBI would not accept the yardstick used by the CAG to arrive at a loss figure. But later on, the CBI applied a new yardstick to compute revenue loss to the Government in order to ply along with the Supreme Court and placate the Media. I asked, “If that illusion is not there, where is the need for the arrest? All details are in the files. Even if I had made wealth as suspected by you, will it be possible to hide those property documents?” He replied, “You may know this yourself. This is a political decision considered to be a needed measure”,” writes Raja.
On Personal Angst
Raja speaks of seven years of humiliation and a trial by fire for his family and friends as a result of the 2G episode. “After the completion of my tenure as Member of Parliament, when I was required to vacate my official residence in Delhi, no one was willing to even rent a house to me,” he writes. “At airports, railway stations and all other public places where I passed by, I could hear the whisperings of my having scammed Rs 1.76 lakh crores.”
He writes of publications such as The Pioneer, The Times of India, Tamil magazine Junior Vikatan and many others publishing false information about alleged undisclosed assets parked abroad, splashed his wife’s, his 11-year-old daughter’s picture all over the front pages, dragging them in and attempting to shame the entire family.
Raja’s book – The 2G Saga Unfolds – states his stand in no unequivocal terms. “It has been my stand from day one that I have been charged for a ‘murder’ but the alleged ‘murder victim’ is still alive! My plea is hence rooted in righteousness and truth and not the usual defence of ‘benefit of doubt’.” This book was written during the 2G trial. It will be released on January 20, in the wake of Raja’s acquittal in the 2G case.