Whispers in the corridors of Parliament point to the Coalgate storm subsiding by this weekend. The ruling party and the principal opposition presumably concur that a week is appropriate for disrupting both the Houses over the Prime Minister’s Office obliging Big Business by allotting coal blocks at throwaway prices.
Besides the ostensible reason of preferring debate over disruption, the BJP may be persuaded in favour of resuming House business because of other, more compelling, factors. The Congress bore the saffron party’s shenanigans over Coalgate with the forbearance of the Grand Old Party but the time for patient endurance is up. Accordingly, ruling party spokespersons have started disclosing how many chief ministers of BJP-ruled states sent recommendations favouring allotment of coal blocks to various private players without the benefit of an auction.
Indeed, stories to this effect have steadily surfaced in the media in the last two days. The Chhattisgarh government is believed to have written letters opposing auction of the coal blocks. It has transpired that of the 57 coal blocks given to private companies, that the CAG has investigated and objected to, 13 are in BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh. Of these 13, various blocks were allotted to companies with no industrial base in the state. The Chhattisgarh Accountant General held the Chief Minister Raman Singh guilty of causing of a loss of Rs 1052 crores to the state exchequer by allotting coal blocks at throwaway price to private companies, the same reason that the BJP believes to be incriminating enough to demand the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s resignation.
Significantly, the company that was allotted the blocks was SMS Infrastructure Ltd, that belongs to Rajya Sabha MP Ajay S. Sancheti. Now, Leaders of Opposition in both Houses Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley can but will not testify that Mr Sancheti was not a known entity till the BJP president Nitin Gadkari pushed for his elevation to the Upper House. Mr Sancheti hails from the BJP president’s hometown Nagpur and made headlines when it turned out that his driver owns a flat in the scam-tainted Adarsh Housing Society.
Around the same time that Mr Gadkari managed to smuggle Mr Sancheti into Parliament, another of his favourites Anshuman Mishra was denied this privilege because of opposition from Ms Swaraj and L. K. Advani covertly and Yashwant Sinha overtly. Mr Sinha opposed extending support to Mr Mishra’s elevation from Jharkhand and dwelt at length on an open secret – “Jharkhand has become a happy hunting ground…Tickets are being auctioned in the state.”
Other luminaries who have been elected from Jharkhand in recent years are Parimal Nathwani, a candidate of the most powerful business group in India and K. D. Singh who runs the ‘Republic of Chicken’ besides campaigning for Mamata Banerjee in far away states like Himachal Pradesh and Haryana; since then Didi has very kindly elevated him to the Upper House.
Indeed, Parliament has now become the most exclusive club attracting Big Business and its cronies of various shapes and sizes. Except for the rapidly diminishing Left block, the entire political landscape is dotted with their contaminating presence. No wonder then that it is not just the Congress-led UPA that has been an enthusiastic proponent of allotting natural resources – air, land, water i.e. Spectrum 2G, coal, KG Basin et al – at minimum support price to Big Business and maximum loss to the Exchequer. The BJP-ruled states are equally eager in wooing big business at the cost of the people. Of course, the benefits of such blatant crony capitalism must be democratically distributed for Parliamentary decorum to be maintained. That explains why on January 13, 2006, the day six coal blocks were allotted to various companies in the BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, four more blocks were allotted in BJD-ruled Orissa and JMM-AJSU-BJP-ruled Jharkhand.
Naturally, the various pleas of the Left parties for a considered debate have been ignored. The media scarcely noticed the only statement that laid bare the linkages between Big Business and the political class. Needless to say, the statement was issued by the CPI (M). “The sordid story of crony capitalism has become a hallmark of the UPA-II government. The government, which is so tight-fisted over spending on food and nutrition security of the people, has shrugged aside huge losses to the public exchequer while benefiting corporates,” said a CPI (M) politburo statement. “The CPI (M) condemns such complicit approach of the government and demands that all those responsible for this fleecing of public funds over the handing over of natural resources be brought to book and accountability fixed. The Politburo also demands that all measures are initiated to retrieve the losses in violation of statutory and other agreed provisions as was ordained by the Supreme Court in the 2G spectrum case.”
Despite their numerous flaws, the Left is clearly the only block in Parliament that can still be counted on to speak out against these linkages. This is also the reason why CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat believes the Left is being “squeezed out” of the parliamentary process. “A situation has been created in which the Left parties cannot compete. In the recently conducted Nellore by-election, the YSR Congress and the Congress distributed Rs 2000-2500 to each voter in the constituency. This scale of money power in elections is indicative of collusion between Big Business and politics that we have been talking about,” Karat said at a seminar recently.
Whether this reality should force the CPM (M) to shift focus from electoral politics to people’s movements against corporate land grand and the loot of natural resources is another subject of debate. But what is clear from the goings-on is that people are nowhere on the agenda in Parliament. Since Anna Hazare has managed to tug at middle-India heart strings by chanting his ‘anti-corruption’ mantra, it is imperative for the principal opposition party to put up a mock fight when something like Coalgate surfaces. The Congress, being the perfectionist in the art of realpolitik, understands the BJP’s compulsions. However, neither Anna nor the two mainstream parties are prepared to discuss the staggering rise of crony capitalism and the resultant subversion of Parliament, media and the various institutions including the judiciary. Corruption per se is an attractive target of political attack as Anna demonstrated with impeccable timing. But the policy that leads to corruption is not.
No wonder then that the story about the biggest corporate lobbyist of our times, Nira Radia having resurfaced to set up shop in Gurgaon was lost in the cacophony over Coalgate.
(Poornima Joshi is Associate Editor, Social Change, a social sciences peer review journal published by Sage for Council for Social Development)