In 2014, a few months before his death, former attorney general Goolam Essaji Vahanvati requested a personal meeting with an accused, whom he had vehemently argued against. The invitation surprised the man who had emerged as a mascot of corruption in India.
Former telecom minister A. Raja, who was once charged by Vahanvati with betraying his trust and altering a press note on 2G licences, obliged the ailing Vahanvati's request.
Vahanvati, who was solicitor general from 2004 to 2007, had trashed Raja’s submission that then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, Raja and he had had a meeting regarding the 2G policy.
Vahanvati told the Joint Parliamentary Committee headed by P.C. Chacko that there was no such meeting, and that Raja did not get the 2G policy 'approved' by Pranab or himself. However, a reply to an RTI query in 2013 confirmed that the meeting was held in the first week of December 2007, and the changes to the first-come, first-served policy on 2G spectrum allocations were made with 'consent'.
Raja, a staunch atheist, does not believe that it was fate that made Vahanvati call him over to confess his “guilt”. “There were 'people' who knew what was going on,” says a confidant of Raja, who is out on bail and shuttling between Tamil Nadu and Delhi and .
And, through his tell-all book, In My Defence, Raja wants everyone to know about what was going on. Excerpts of the book, accessed by THE WEEK, portray him as “the fall guy”.
The 356-page book, published by Penguin, is likely to be released in September. The book was supposed to be launched last year; why the delay? “Seniors in the DMK (Raja's party) wanted him to wait till the Tamil Nadu assembly elections got over,” says the confidant.
The book covers various topics—Raja’s journey from his parental home to public life; the policies and the cabinet decisions on 2G spectrum; corporate wars; his struggles with “untruth”; the spectrum auction; “the folly” of the Comptroller and Auditor-General; Raja's resignation; the role of Parliament, the judiciary and the press in the 2G case; and “unjustified arrests”.
In the book, Raja discusses in detail the figures arrived at by the CAG and the CBI, and the policies followed by his predecessors in the telecom ministry Dayanidhi Maran (DMK), Arun Shourie (BJP) and Pramod Mahajan (BJP).
One chapter tries to explain how during the Vajpayee government's issuance of spectrum beyond 6.2MHz caused a loss of Rs 36,993 crore. “I have nothing to do with that,” he writes.
Raja says the National Telecom Policy-1999 had been followed till 2007, when he became telecom minister. “I issued licences based on the same policy,” he writes, blasting the BJP and the left parties for singling him out.
The book also slams the CAG for arriving at the Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss to the exchequer, which the Supreme Court termed as “mind-boggling”. Raja wonders how the CBI, meanwhile, arrived at a figure of Rs 36,000 crore, and why the charge-sheet and the charges framed in the trial court not mention any loss.
Raja was made to suffer physically, mentally and politically, says his confidant. “The DMK got an electoral drubbing because of the figures given by the CAG and other institutions,” he says. “But these numbers were not there in the charges framed by the trial court. Whoever wanted to maintain the 'mind-boggling' figure, politically and legally, must be accountable to the country. He wants them to break their silence, admit they were wrong.” Raja snipes at former finance minister P. Chidambaram. Says the confidant: “A learned lawyer [Chidambaram], who had read in full the National Telecom Policy-1999 and knew about TRAI recommendations, had signed the documents, but maintained silence when Raja asked for the finance ministry's advice.”
Raja also accuses Chidambaram of scuttling the DMK’s request to allow him to depose before the Joint Parliamentary Committee. When asked about the allegation, Chidambaram's response to THE WEEK was curt: “Was I a member of the JPC? You should ask the JPC members.”
Raja goes on to question the silence of Chidambaram, President Pranab Mukherjee and former prime minister Manmohan Singh. “The prime minister, who stood for transparency and the welfare of the telecom sector, was misguided by the cartel forces,” says the confidant.
In the book, Raja alleges that some telecom giants—such as Airtel and Vodafone—tried to cajole him to favour them. He, in fact, describes the 2G scam as “a byproduct of corporate wars and institutional abrasions”.
Raja takes a dig at the media, too. “Based on the media reports and the effects of corporate wars in the telecom sector that followed the issuance of licences and the slandering rendered both inside and outside the Parliament, it could be concluded that a kind of image was built-up as a big scam [sic],” he writes.
The main villain in the book, however, is former CAG Vinod Rai. Raja describes the CAG report on the 2G allocation as a “bundle of papers” that “deserved to be dumped only in (the) dust bin”. He quotes Mark Twain to bolster his allegation: “...a lie told well is immortal”.
“I faced such a predicament in the 2G case,” writes Raja. “Generally, those who lie need more of memory power. Fortunately for me, many of those who were telling lies in the 2G case did not have such ability and hence the file documents and their earlier actions contradicted their lies. In toto, Mr Rai’s report in the garb of CAG is nothing but a caveman’s voice not conforming to any legal pattern.” Rai declined to comment on Raja's remarks.
Raja claims he was criminalised for the 'revolution' he made through 2G licences (by bringing down mobile phone tariffs), and believes that history would absolve him.
What about the controversial Nira Radia tapes? Silence between the lines.