It is no irony, given the state of our nation, that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee – a whistleblower, in a manner of speaking – finds himself on the defensive when it should have been Home Minister P. Chidambaram – the accused – who ought to have been pressed to explain his role in the 2G spectrum scandal.
The letter by Mukherjee’s ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office revealing Chidambaram’s U-turn on sale of valuable spectrum at 2001 prices, instead of by auction, stirred up a controversy but so far has led to no scrutiny of the former finance minister’s role. The entire Congress Party and the UPA government have rallied behind Chidambaram for probably two significant reasons. One, it cannot afford to lose the senior leader from Tamil Nadu because it could destabilize the Manmohan Singh government; and two, the fear that Chidambaram’s fall might lead the trail right up to the prime minister himself.
Right now, television channels are reporting an explanation written by Mukherjee to both Singh and Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi narrating the circumstances in which the Finance Ministry letter was written. The key point he apparently makes is this: the letter’s contents, including the finger-pointing at Chidambaram, was the result of a consensus that emerged from several meetings in which several ministries and the PMO were involved.
Still, it is hard to see the UPA government acting against Chidambaram. With the CBI declining to investigate the former finance minister, the next act in this drama will be scripted by the Supreme Court. The Finance Ministry’s controversial letter is in court as it hears a case by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy seeking a probe of Chidambaram’s role in the 2G spectrum scandal. Moral redemption for Mukherjee can probably come only from the court, but there may be no political redemption for the 75-year-old Congress Party veteran.