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Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Conspiracy of Silence


ADITI PRASAD | New Delhi, August 28, 2012 17:52
Tags : cag | mosnoon session | prime minister of india | manmohan singh..... |

For years now, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's silence has been construed as a major weakness. Given that he owes his office to Madame's 'benevolence' eight years ago, one can somewhat understand the PM's diffidence in speaking before Soniaji has made her sentiments clear on key issues. But DR. Singh seems to have taken the art of silence to an altogether different level by not expressing his views on most cases of national importance, controversial or otherwise during his nearly two terms in office.

And when the ever-silent Prime Minister begins touting this same silence as an asset – rather than the liability that many believe it to be – one may well be given to assume that he has scant regard for 'executive accountability' inherent in the very fabric of our Parliamentary democracy system. “Hazaron jawabo se achchi hai khamoshi meri, na jaane kitne sawaalon ki aabru rakhe (My silence is better than a thousand answers. If I start answering questions, many more will come up),” the Prime Minister told reporters outside Parliament yesterday, a day when the opposition stalled his statement on the controversial coal block allocations.

Well, that was the Indian Prime Minister admitting to the media and therefore the 1.2 billion people of this nation that his silence is per-meditated because he feels that one answer from him will lead to a slew of other questions. Now since Dr. Singh was reciting an Urdu couplet does he have the same creative license as the poet? Perhaps not, given that he occupies the most powerful office in the country, which is directly accountable to the people. What is a leader if he hesitates in giving consummate answers to his detractors? What happened to accountability in public office? To being answerable to the people?    

Worse, the statement comes at a time when the Parliament – which consists of 543 representatives elected by people across the country – is in session and the opposition is demanding answers from the Prime Minister about the alleged Rs.1.86 crore loss to the exchequer due to coal block allocations during his tenure as coal minister from 2005-09. Unfortunately for Dr Singh, the allegations are not whimsical concoctions by the opposition parties for political mileage (though the BJP is obviously squeezing it for all its worth). Instead, they have been leveled by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) – which for the uninitiated is a constitutional institution which ensures the accountability of all those who spend public funds (including the government) to Parliament and State Legislatures.

To be fair, the Prime Minister did craft a statement after days of opposition stalling Parliament over Coalgate. In his statement – which he was not allowed to read out in the Parliament due to the din created by opposition parties - the PM has said that the official auditor's report is "clearly disputable" and "flawed" because of its assumptions and computations. He later added that the CAG's observations will be challenged when the matter comes before the PAC (Public Accounts Committee).

Unfortunately that has been the typical stand of the government and the Prime Minister ever since CAG began exposing the dubious dealings of this government over the past three years. Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum, Antrix-Devas deals are among the big allegations that CAG has leveled against the government during this time. The government first tried to duck questions on each of them, then questioned CAG's authority and when nothing else worked, stalled the more controversial issues endlessly in the PAC.

Take for instance the 2G spectrum allocations case. Nothing much has come out of it till date. The PAC, headed by opposition leader Murli Manohar Joshi, is yet to finalise its report on the irregularities in 2G spectrum allocation. Joshi of course made the mistake of naming the Prime Minister among the guilty in his report. The ruling party members in the PAC typically refused to endorse it, and the report continues to languish in a draft form somewhere.

Seeing the fate of the PAC report on 2G spectrum allocations, the collective diatribe of every ruling party spokesperson in pushing CAG's coal allocation allegations towards an examination by the PAC becomes a tad clearer. It obviously has little to do with further examination of the CAG allegations, and more to push the whole issue under the proverbial carpet.

Meanwhile, after his brief attempt at giving a fitting repartee (replete with Urdu couplets) to his critics, Dr Singh can go back to his silent ways. After all, for almost an entire month after Coalgate made headlines, the Prime Minister played the silent hero and left the job of defending him to his party and his colleagues. He can continue to do so again – content in the knowledge that he at least tabled a statement in the Parliament.

One only wishes that India's opposition parties would have been mature enough to let Dr Singh read his statement and answer some questions. It would have been a long-awaited treat for the nation to see the incumbent Prime Minister defend his policies and their implementation after years of supposed policy-paralysis and silence.

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog are that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Sunday Indian)
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017