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Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 9, February 19, 2011

Unimpressive and Mired in Controversy

Editorial

Monday 21 February 2011, by SC

Within a day of the PM’s televised interaction with editors of TV channels the Union Government has annulled the contract which Antrix, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), had entered into with Devas Multimedia in January 2010 wherein 70 MHz of S-band spectrum had been given to Devas at throwaway prices and without competitive bidding resulting in a loss of crores of rupees to the exchequer.

While this is doubtless welcome (especially when various pressures, including those from external sources, were at work to retain the agreement, as revealed from the PM’s own responses at the press interaction), the reason for the inordinate delay in reaching the decision even after the Space Commission had recommended the same in July 2010 is far from convincing; Dr Manmohan Singh attributes it to “procedural” matters. So also was his bland denial of any “back-room” negotiations by PMO officials with Devas. Nevertheless, the government’s decision not to henceforth allow the S-band to be utilised for commercial purposes in view of its strategic value merits commendation.

However, these apart, it must be pointed out that the PM’s statements at his first major PR exercise in recent months when he and his government have been overwhelmed by multiple scams, failed to carry much conviction. Despite his declaration that his government was “dead serious” in bringing to book all wrongdoers “regardless of the place they may occupy”, his defensive posture came out in sharp relief in his candid observations. Simultaneously his sense of helplessness was evident when he confessed of “compromises” he was forced to make for the sake of running a coalition. The Opposition, primarily the BJP, reacted fast, with party President Nitin Gadkari pertinently asking: “Coalition is related only to 2G. What is the relation between coalition and the cases of ISRO (S-band allocation), Commonwealth Games and Adarsh?”

More significantly, as the Left parties pointed out, on the two cardinal issues of corruption and price rise, the PM threw up his hands virtually saying nothing much could be done. At the same time it was definitely most unfortunate that Dr Manmohan Singh chose to compare the loss due to the 2G spectrum scam (presumed to be of the order of Rs 1.76 lakh crore) with subsidies given on foodgrains, fertiliser and kerosene for the benefit of the poorest segments of society. It was akin to equating corporate loot with assistance to the poor and indigent (which has been the hall-mark of a welfare state). A controversial comparison indeed!

His reluctance to wholeheartedly rejoice at the Egyptian people’s revolution on the ground that that could amount to interference in the affairs of a sovereign state did not go unnoticed. He did say that the dawn of democracy everywhere was welcome and the Egyptian masses “have our goodwill” but these fell short of what was legitimately expected from the world’s largest democracy.

On the whole, the PM’s attempts to put up a bold face against the scam-tainted backdrop have failed to refurbish his image. The PR exercise’s net result has been quite unimpressive and given sufficient ammunition to the Opposition for launching further assaults on the government even as the issue of setting up the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the 2G spectrum scam appears to have been finally settled before Parliament’s Budget session.

February 17 S.C.

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