“I will react after reading the judgement.” This was all that former Union Telecom Minister A Raja had to say minutes after a Central Bureau of Investigation court on Thursday acquitted him and 15 others of all charges in the 2G spectrum case. For eight years, Raja has been the villain of India’s most prominent corruption scandal.
The crowd of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam supporters that gathered outside the Patiala House court complex in Delhi erupted in cheers as reporters came outside with the news that their leaders, Raja and Kanimozhi, the daughter of DMK chief M Karunanidhi, had been declared innocent.
A few minutes earlier, the special judge OP Saini read out the operational portion of the verdict: “The prosecution failed to prove the case beyond doubt.” Kanimozhi’s family members, including former Union Minister and her half brother MK Alagiri and her mother Rajathi, reacted with elation. Raja’s family members had tears of joy in their eyes. Justice has finally been served, said Kanimozhi as she emerged from the court.
The corruption scandal that led to the decimation of the Congress and the DMK in 2014 Lok Sabha polls could not have witnessed a more dramatic turn than the verdict on Thursday.
Reacting to the development, former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram said that the judgement made it clear that allegations of corruption against the high offices of the United Progressive Alliance government were certainly not true.
The alleged scandal is said to orginated in 2008, when the Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology sold 122 2G licenses on a first-come-first-served basis. The primary allegation was that Raja, as the Union Telecom Minister, chose this method to favour a few companies and received kickbacks for doing so. The Enforcement Directorate claimed that kickbacks earned from the scam were routed to the DMK-run television channel Kalaignar TV, in which Kanimozhi and Dayalu Ammal, the wife of DMK patriarch Karunanidhi, held 80% of the shares.
After the verdict former Union Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal criticised former Comptroller and Auditor General of India Vinod Rai, who had in 2010 estimated that the notional loss to the exchequer from the deal was Rs 1,76,000 crores. “Vinod Rai should be ashamed,” Sibal said. “It was a scam by him.” Much of the non-performing assets problem in the banking sector today has its roots in fake scandal, claimed Sibal, who in 2011 famously proclaimed that there had been “zero loss” in the 2G spectrum allocation.
A massive victory
In few sentences, the court has given the DMK its biggest victory in years, a judgement that is bound to increase its value as an ally for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
From being the ruling party and the most sought-after ally in Tamil Nadu, the DMK was beaten down when the 2G scandal broke in 2009. Slowly, alliance partners began to abandon the DMK, which in the 2014 had to fight the Lok Sabhha election almost alone, with just the help of some minor players. It did not manage to win any seats.
The DMK lost the 2011 Assembly elections primarily because of the taint of the 2G scam. Kanimozhi, the daughter of Karunanidhi, was arrested in 2011. Former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa famously declared during her 2011 election campaign that the DMK and its first family were a “den of corruption”.
The Thursday verdict has given the DMK a potent weapon to strike back at its critics. With its opponent All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in a shambles following the death of its leader Jayalalithaa last year, the DMK could well be on its way to reclaim its position as the most preferred party in Tamil Nadu.
RK Nagar bye-election
The immediate repercussion of the verdict would be felt in Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar in Chennai, where the bye-polls are being held on Thursday. As the news channels continue their coverage of the verdict, DMK leaders anticipate voters favourably reacting. A win for the DMK will further weaken the AIADMK government.
In a just a year, the roles have clearly been reversed in Tamil Nadu. The DMK was viewed as the corrupt party till January. But in February, the Supreme Court held guilty Jayalalithaa and three others in a disproportionate assets case. Had Jayalalithaa been alive, she would currently be serving a four-year sentence in a Bengaluru jail with her aide VK Sasikala. With this verdict, Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK now carries the taint of corruption.
The verdict will also have its effects within the DMK. After Kanimozhi was arrested in 2011, she was completely sidelined. The 2G case, in fact, expedited the elevation of her half-brother MK Stalin to the post of working president. With her acquittal in the 2G case, Kanimozhi will seek her due. How this shakes the DMK boat would be a curious story in the coming months.
For A Raja, the 2G verdict could allow him to bounce back as the DMK’s main Dalit face. Raja too was sidelined. He was once Karunanidhi’s favourite, a position he could now claim again.
All said and done, the DMK will continue to be cautious. It is almost certain that the CBI will file an appeal in the Delhi High Court against the verdict.