Interview of the Week `I don't want PM to resign'
Janata Party president SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY says he was motivated to commence his investigation in the 2G spectrum allotment case after he heard influential people say that this might constitute the instance of the "most monumental corruption" in world history. Dr Swamy tells ANAND K. SAHAY in this interview that those who made the money will stand to gain politically if Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is forced to resign.
Q. Your Public Interest Litigation concerning the 2G spectrum allotment has led to the resignation of the telecommunications minister, A. Raja, and is still reverberating in the political sphere. What alerted you to the possibility that the 2G case needed investigation?
A. I went back to Harvard in 2008. I often go there in the summer to teach. In the course of a gathering of prominent people it was being said that the 2G spectrum allotment in India (2007-'08) might be the case of the most monumental corruption in world history. They were saying this might be the beginning of the end for India. The scenario was compounded on account of the earlier Satyam scam. After what I heard, I wrote a book Satyam, Spectrum, Sundaram. The "Sundaram" in the title spelt for me hope and what's good with India.
Q. Who were in the gathering?
Why did you attach so much weight to what was being said?
A. It was a sort of world economic forum, if you like. Top bankers and others. Some of them are tracking terrorist funding and hawala transactions and the like. Like the Emergency which motivated me (to fight), I felt I should put up such a fight that it should become a landmark.
Q. Someone called Niira Radia, who heads Vaishnavi Communication and represents top politicians and top business entities like the Tatas and Mukesh Ambani, is allegedly instrumental in some of the activities you were looking at. Were you in touch?
A. For three years Niira Radia was the de facto wife of an Opposition leader from south India. She is from Gujarat and there they have the system of "maitri karar" (friendship agreement). So, I knew I had to do the work myself. I have experience of taking up anti-corruption cases against (the late) Ramakr ishna Hegde and J. Jayalalithaa.
The territory was familiar.
I wrote to the Prime Minister. I thought here was a man I've known so well --fellow economist and he was my economic adviser when I was commerce minister. There has been no break in the relationship. I wrote in November 2008 asking for sanction to prosecute Mr Raja. There was no reply. I knew that he won't be able to rock the boat. He is decent, upright, and I have great regard for him. So, I said let me build a case as I had to go to court. Each time I got new material, I'll send a letter. In March 2010, I gave an ultimatum saying that if you don't reply by March 21, I'll go to court. This was the fourth communication.
Q. Presumably your last. What did you say in letters two and three?
A. No, it wasn't the last. He (the PM) sent me a letter on March 19 through the secretary of the department of personnel saying that it was "premature" to give permission (to prosecute the telecommunications minister).
So I filed a case in the Delhi high court on March 21.
After I went to court, they said you can give more documents.
So I sent the PM another letter on June 10, with complete documents -about 100 pages. It pre-dated the Comptroller and Auditor General material and what the media may have got.
This was the last letter.
When I came back in August from Harvard, my petition came up. It also asked that the 2G licences allotted be cancelled, and challenged the first-comefirst-served principle under which the spectrum was given out.
In another matter -in the case of a company called S Tel -the high court held that the advancing of the cut-off date from October 1 to September 25 by Mr Raja was wrong. Then I thought I am ready and went to the Supreme Court.
You asked about my second and third letter. In those I gave the PM more documents, including details of the company called Genex (with which the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is allegedly associated). He knew all that already, and I was happy to note that he knew that I too knew.
Q. Why do you think the PM still didn't act against Mr Raja or any others at that stage? If he had, the issue of the PM's resignation would not be thrown up at all.
A. This (the fact that the PM did not take any action) still cannot be a case for his resignation. He didn't make any money or seek any money. He made feeble attempts to rectify matters, wrote to Mr Raja, tried to see that he didn't get the telecom portfolio again (in United Progressive Alliance 2).
Q. So, what was driving matters? Push from the DMK in a coalition situation?
A. Top Congress leaders. They may have got 40 per cent of the money which has been made. In the recent core group meeting of the Congress (when the storm broke), four were on one side and the PM on the other. But he got Mr Raja to resign. This is why I don't want him to resign.
Q. I heard you say on television that it was easy to crack the case. All that was needed was to go to the Americans.
A. Sure. The Americans are monitoring all financial flows in the world -bank transfers and others. Part of their own antiterrorism and money-laundering effort. There is also a UN money-laundering resolution to which we are a party. We should get in touch with the US on this.
Q. Do you believe the Congress-DMK alliance can continue if it can be publicly shown that any of the tainted money in the 2G affair has reached the top boys in the DMK? That is what the so-called Genex deal is meant to be about. After all, the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections is hardly six months away. And what happens to UPA 2 in the worst case scenario?
A. How do I care? The DMK lot may have got 30 per cent of `60,000 crore.
Q. But there is still a good chance that the Left and the Right Opposition can still ask for the Prime Minister to resign. This suits them politically and will precipitate a political crisis.
A. I can tell you, Bharatiya Janata Party won't ask for Dr Singh's resignation. The reason is the resignation will politically strengthen those who got the money and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishva Hindu Parishad understand this.
Took up spectrum issue as it impinges on security: Swamy
B Sivakumar, TNN, Nov 21, 2010, 03.16am IST
CHENNAI: Subramanian Swamy, a Harvard-educated economist, who filed a petition on the spectrum scandal before the Supreme Court, that triggered a campaign to force Union telecom minister A Raja out of office says the spectrum scandal was not only the biggest scam to have taken place in the country, it also impinged on national security.
Replying to a range of questions on the scam and the upcoming Tamil Nadu elections, Swamy said the scandal has put PM Manmohan Singh in a bind.
Q: When did you sense a massive scam in the 2G spectrum allocation and what prompted you to seek A Raja's prosecution?
A: On January 11, 2008 I received an eyewitness account of what happened in the Sanchar Bhavan (which houses the telecom ministry in New Delhi).
Q: Who brought the scam to your notice?
A: Mostly honest civil servants.
Q: What made you take up the 2G spectrum issue? Is it a campaign against the DMK or the Congress?
A: It is the biggest scam which impinges on national security.
Q: Did you expect Raja to resign when you took up the issue?
A: I was sure that the PM was inclined and my case would help him to.
Q: Did you expect the Supreme Court to question the Prime Minister on this issue?
There is no explicit censure. The Prime Minister is in a difficult bind.
When the investigating agencies were able to update the courts on the progress of the 2G case, why do you think the PMO delayed replying to your petitions?
I think the Prime Minister was under pressure.
Q: Union minister Kapil Sibal has said that you are taking up the 2G spectrum issue in the Supreme Court to gain political space and not for justice.
A: It is a foolish comment. I have to intervene because the Congress is giving protection to Raja.
Q: Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi has said he had nothing against a JPC probe. Do you think he is trying to put the onus of responsibility on Raja?
A: That is why I insist on high-level security cover for Raja.
Janata Party chief and former law minister Subramanian Swamy talks to Saubhadra Chatterji about life and politics
Q: Before coming to the current 2G issue, I want to ask you an existential question. What prompts you to knock the doors of courts as a crusader?
People love to play safe, but in my case I don't need to play safe. I am in a position where I already have what I wanted. I have been full professor at the Harvard University. I was a professor at IIT, probably the youngest there. Even today I can get a professor's job anywhere in the world. People generally avoid controversy as they are afraid that they may be denied a position. I have been brought up with the philosophy — it may sound old-fashioned — that it is your karma that gives you rewards. I have been a Member of Parliament five times. I have been elected from Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh and of course Tamil Nadu. Nobody believes how this can happen when I don't have a godfather. I don't have any shortage of money with my earnings and inheritance. So, I have elbow room for this kind of mission. Fighting injustice has always been a strong instinct in me.
Q: But your crusades seem to be only against the Congress party.
Well, I was not cruel when Rajiv (Gandhi) was there. The whole country was cruel to him. I was with him at that time. I was with PV Narasimha Rao who was treated very badly by Sonia Gandhi. And I am still very soft on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Even the Supreme Court noted that I have a high opinion about the prime minister. But unfortunately, the Congress today has become a crass money-grabbing entity. So, I have to take a stand. The Congress — not the prime minister but Sonia Gandhi — is trying to target the opposition. She is telling the media not to publish anything I say. I have been targeted by her. I have to fight back.
Q: But these efforts have yielded no political dividend for you in the past few years.
I don't care. People may seek rewards but I don't need them.
Q: You have not been elected to Parliament even once after 1999.
I was in Parliament for five terms. I did not contest the last time. In the previous election, it was the electronic voting machine which defeated me.
Q: What prompted you to fight the case against A Raja?
It was monumental corruption. Nobody else was doing it. The opposition may try to take credit now. It may have written a few letters but didn't do anything to take the matter to its logical end.
My opponents' problem is that they can't say anything against me. They can't say I am illiterate. They can't say I am corrupt and dishonest. So, they have to say nobody pays any attention to Subramanian Swamy.
But Sonia Gandhi dare not file a case against me.As far as Raja case is concerned, I don't need sanction any more. The prosecution can go ahead. The issue is why did the prime minister take such a long time? Why did he not decide immediately? My question is whether there is any mala fide intention in his delay. But I don't want him to resign because everyone knows he doesn't exercise full power. He has to take sanctions from Sonia Gandhi.
Q: Do you think the prime minister is a victim of coalition compulsions?
Well, I was also a minister of a coalition government which was supported by Rajiv Gandhi. But we didn't budge under pressure. My point is, coalition compulsion cannot be an excuse. Vajpayee used that as an excuse for not doing anything on Hindutva. On fundamentals, you have to take a stand or get out.
Q: Your state will be going for elections in a few months. Do you see the 2G scam becoming a major political issue?
I did the same thing against Jayalalithaa too. It paid rich dividend. I entered Tamil Nadu politics in the bastion of Dravidianism in Madurai. Although I am a Brahmin, I nearly defeated the DMK candidate in Madurai. Jayalalithaa's problem is that she is not credible on corruption. But if she and I join hands and she concentrates on the organisational aspects, I on the campaign against corruption and go to the public saying we will root out corruption, that will be well-received.
Q: But can corruption really be a determining factor in the Tamil Nadu elections?
It has been. When MGR was there, when JP was there, corruption became a political issue. But people want confidence that you are not doing it only for political purpose, that you are an honest man. People have started believing I am against corruption, I am honest, and most importantly, I can do something about corruption.
Q: What will be your party's strategy in the elections?
I believe if I can win two or three seats in the Assembly, it will be taken as the dawn of a new era. But if Jayalalithaa is ready for an alliance…but she can't be ready because she has got a friend called Sasikala. But if Jayalalithaa and I can join hands, we can easily get a majority.
Q: The Congress managers believe the Congress party is kingmaker in Tamil Nadu.
The Congress may claim anything. Let them stand alone and show they are the kingmakers. Anyway, my plan is to put up candidates on a limited number of seats, if the alliance doesn't take place. Madurai is my base and puts me in direct confrontation with M K Alagiri. But don't worry, even in the past I have defeated him. I am now looking for an entry in the Tamil Nadu Assembly. I did it once in 1996 and got one MLA. After that I went for an alliance with Jayalalithaa, but eventually we broke up. Then I got busy with academics. But now I am fully back in politics. So, my aim is to get two or three MLAs of my party elected. But if she wants an alliance, I will be ready, because despite all her minuses I like her.
Q: So you are confident that this 2G scam will be a blow for DMK in the next election.
Oh yes, no doubt this will be a blow for both DMK and Sonia Gandhi.