‘I have tried to clear, straighten the record over the politics around 2G’

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‘I have tried to clear, straighten the record over the politics around 2G’


But that fair value has to be contrasted with the social justice objective that has to be achieved.

After the acquittal of main players in the much publicised 2G scam, former Union minister and senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid has written a tell-all book about the politics of 2G. Speaking to Ashhar Khan, Mr Khurshid gives his reasoning for the book to keep the record straight. Excerpts:

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What made you write this book?

That’s one question I am asked again and again? I felt strongly about accusations against our party and our government. The last two-and-a-half years of our tenure in the UPA 2 made me feel helpless. We saw a cunning adversary attacking us unfairly, dishonestly and we just weren’t able to respond. We made some feeble attempts. I tried to put together, while I was briefly in law ministry, a team of best lawyers who could work on various legal issues. Unfortunately I was shifted and that didn’t happen. Then there was this GoM on media that used to meet every day at one pm, we discussed various issues, we worked out that we should go out and speak to the media and take our message across. But somehow the nature of the combat that we were involved in didn’t give us a real opportunity to be able to retain our ground in the field and we lost the election.

At some point I thought that the truth had to be told, even if it was too late to undo the damage. But at least for the future to put the record straight and if this is something that is going to be thrown at us again and again there would be a counter-narrative available. This book will allow people to reassess what the Congress did and what the Congress can do in future.

You have mentioned in your book that the alleged 2G scam was a “corporate battle”. Could you please elaborate?

There were two sets of people that were looking to dominate the entire sector and they were from two separate kind of spectrum that was available. One was GSM and one was CDMA. They had very important issues, which reflected on their ability to capture this sector or their ability to retain what they had in the sector. So they were pushing hard for various policy initiatives or policy directives of the government. Now each of those policy decisions was going to have an impact in one manner or the other on the financial stakes that these people had. Therefore, taking one view would lead to hostility from the other group who would run to someone else to complain. So, actually I didn’t deeply look at the actual battle between the two corporate groups that were in conflict, but I put that down as the broad background. My concern was to defend the decisions that were taken, the rationale of those decisions and to say that we are vindicated by what finally Judge Saini has said and done.

The old question still remains whether auction or the “first come, first serve” is better in allocation of natural resources?

That matter is now settled by five judges. The five judges recused themselves on the issue of spectrum because they said that two judges have already taken a view. They were not in appeal, they were not hearing it on a reference from two judges. They were only preparing to answer a Presidential reference to them, which would be an opinion not binding on the two judges. Those five judges have very categorically said that the auction is not the best method in all circumstances and certainly not a constitutional mandate. There may be many circumstances in which auction will be counterproductive and that other methods should be adopted.

So my answer is irrespective of what happened in 2G, that is the law of the land. There may well be a case for auction and a case against auction. In the panel discussion that happened at the launch of this book the former chairman of TRAI Rahul Khullar was present. He spoke of many countries where there is no auction. In Japan there is no auction, in other countries where there has been an auction it has been built in such a way that what we hoped to achieve by not having an auction was achieved also in the auction. The jury is out on this issue. You can’t simply say auction means justice and lack of auction means dishonesty. That’s clearly not the case.

Coming to Rs 1.76 lakh crores that’s the figure of presumptive loss which was coined by the CAG. Your views on presumptive loss?

I would say this was not presumptive loss but consumptive loss (laughs); it consumed our entire telecom sector, it consumed our government.

There are a thousand examples where the government chooses to forego revenue in pursuit of another legitimate objective. It happens in fiscal policy all the time, it happens in tax holidays being given for development purposes, it happens in incentives and disincentive in imports and exports.

It would be silly to say the least for anyone to believe that governments concern in terms of public policy should only be additional revenue. Revenue might be a meaningful thing in some circumstances. Government is not in the business of business but it doesn’t mean that the government shouldn’t get fair value for whatever assets it has.

But that fair value has to be contrasted with the social justice objective that has to be achieved.

There is no simple answer to the way the CAG tried to project and, therefore, all this reasoning read with the judgments that have come. The presumptive loss I believe was a terribly wrong assumption to have been made. It did a whole lot of damage to us and to the sector.

The then CAG Vinod Rai was rewarded by the BJP which gave him several posts. Do you think Mr Rai also needs to take the blame for killing the sunshine sector?

That’s for him to choose or decide. My attitude is that if we were against demonising people and persecuting them, as indeed prosecuting them for having made rightly or wrongly a choice not acceptable to whoever it be so, I can’t inflict the same on Mr Rai. He has made a mistake but it may have been an honest mistake, it may not have been a dishonest one. Therefore, to castigate him and then put him through the torture chamber is something that I don’t advocate. But I hope people will reflect upon what has happened and try to understand its far reaching consequences and hopefully not make these mistakes in the future.

As somebody who has been in government for long, do you feel it is correct for the CAG to comment on the policies of the government of the day?

It’s very clear that the red line was crossed, whether consciously, deliberately or unconsciously I am not quite certain. But I think that they went too far; and even if we assume that they were correct in looking at the loss being true loss (which was not established), I believe they would have been doing it wrongly. In government policy the government can decide what it wants to do as long as it meets the parameters of the Constitution.

What do you have to say about the cancellation of so many telecom licenses by the Supreme Court before this judgment from the trial court came in the 2G case?

I think that’s something on which a view can be taken either way, the courts are cancelling events and decisions all the time. I personally would have thought that there was not enough justification for the cancellation. Certainly not of cancelling everybody’s license. Even if there was a need on the standards applied by the Supreme Court, at best the action should have been taken against four or five people. Though I believe that there wasn’t a justification for cancellation but then it’s a final judgment of the Supreme Court and we have to accept it.



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