Increasingly it is becoming clear that relations are far from cordial between the Congress and the DMK. Their feud has been on for a while now, first over a dam in the south involving neighbours Tamil Nadu and Kerala, in which the DMK accused the union environment ministry of filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court which favoured Kerala’s case.
Last Thursday, the shadow boxing turned into open sparring when the CBI raided the Telecom ministry headquarters at Sanchar Bhavan before its long arm reached out to several other locations across the country. Normally, the CBI takes prior approval from either the minister or the secretary of the department concerned before initiating raids, but Telecom minister A Raja of the DMK came to know about the raids only when the Telecom Secretary PJ Thomas informed him even as the raiding party reached the Sanchar Bhavan gates.
A CBI source told me that at least a week’s planning goes into an operation of this nature. Four hours before the raids began, all entry and exit points at Sanchar Bhavan were shut, the elevators switched off and officers and staff asked to stay put. After the raids, they even whisked a Deputy Director General serving in the Wireless Planning Cell.
The CBI is directly under the Prime Minister and crucially, as searches expanded to Mumbai, Mohali, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad and Jaipur last Friday, Manmohan Singh left New Delhi to attend the India- ASEAN summit in Bangkok. The raids followed the CBI registering a case on Wednesday after the Central Vigilance Commission found blatant and scandalous violations in the auction of 2G spectrum in September 2007. Two companies, Swan Telecom and Unitech, which had acquired licences for Rs 1537 crore and Rs 1658 crore respectively sold these within a week to overseas buyers for Rs 2400 cr and Rs 6100 cr respectively.
The loss to the government was estimated at Rs 7105 crores and the CVC claimed that overall, the government suffered losses of over Rs 22,000 crore in the allocation of 2G spectrum in all 122 circles. DMK circles counter the CBI and, in effect, the Centre’s argument.
Their questions are many: if the spectrum allocation was done, as alleged, without cabinet approval, why did the Ministry of Finance last week okay it and for- A Raja ward it to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs for final clearance though Pranab Mukherjee is not the kind to clear a file without vetting it minutely? How did the Foreign Investment Promotion Board, which has representatives from the PMO, finance, commerce, home and foreign ministries also sign on the dotted line? Why didn’t the IB raise objections since Telenor, the Singapore registered Norwegian company that bought Unitech’s licence, also operated in Pakistan and Bangladesh? The arguments are not without basis and that’s why I am inclined to think that it’s all about politics.
That the raids picked up momentum after last week’s election results showed there was no stopping the Congress juggernaut is perhaps a sign of the Congress trying to flex muscles in the run up to the 2011 assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. Congressmen see signs of hopes of revival for the party in the state where it has not tasted power for 43 years now. Rahul Gandhi’s recent membership enrolment drives which are said to have been hugely successful has galvanised them to go on the offensive.
Already ministers like Jairam Ramesh and Kamal Nath have targeted DMK leaders in charge of various environmental panels and port trusts for a purge. This is in retaliation to the DMK’s refusal to share power in Tamil Nadu with the Congress on whose support Karunanidhi presides over Fort St George. Worse, none of the 35 Congress MLAs have been given posts of any significance in even state government undertakings. Now local Congress leaders want all DMK leaders who were given plum Central PSU postings to be replaced. The winter session of the Lok Sabha is scheduled to begin on November 19 and I have reason to believe that alliance partners will begin to value their enemies more than they value their friends. The aisles that divide the treasury and the opposition benches could blur as the Samajwadi Party and Mamata’s Trinamool Congress rally around the DMK. Combined, the three parties command the support of 61 MPs, enough to remind the Congress that it is not as invincible as it thinks.