Friday, May 05, 2006

Not sure if this will be published in any newspaper. Still felt like placing something on record!!!!!!!!

V.Krishna Ananth

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is caught in a trap once again. And the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh will have to be seen acting once again. He will have to ask his cabinet colleague, Dayanidhi Maran, to opt for a different portfolio. Well. He will be waiting, with a sense of desperation, for instruction from Sonia Gandhi to do this. It is, after all a fact that the Prime Minister’s prerogative in chosing his cabinet is more an abstraction than a reality and there is nothing incongruous about this.

In a sense, there is as much abstraction in the argument against Maran holding the Telecommunication portfolio as it is with the view that the Prime Minister shall steer clear of his party’s leader. The reality is that Dr. Singh is now the Prime Minister because his party leader had decided that way. In the same way, even if Maran was holding a portfolio other than Telecommnication, he could have done all that he did to promote the interests of his Sun TV network. And would not have faced the same set of allegations that he is now facing!

Let us presume that the charges against him on the issue of DTH licenses are based on substantive evidence. And that Maran is the cause for an inordinate delay in Jaya TV obtaining a license to launch a 24 hour news channel. Jaya TV had applied for the license in May 2004 and is now waiting for a judicial order for getting its application processed and cleared. Or that Raj TV was stopped from airing news and current affairs programmes (this private broadcaster was doing that without the necessary license) because Maran found it eating into his own Sun TV’s viewer base. Let it be stated once again that let all these be presumed to be true.

Now, all these and even more could have been accomplished even if Maran was not the Union Minister for Telecommunications. He could have managed all this even if he was Minister for Textiles. Dayanidhi Maran could have ensured this even if he was Minister without Portfolio! And that is because his party, the DMK, has so much clout with Sonia Gandhi. And with this, the Sun TV group, for whom the DMK chief M.Karunanidhi will stake anything could have got all they wanted without having to post one of its stake-holders (Dayanidhi Maran) as Minister for Telecommunication.

In other words, even if Dr. Manmohan Singh was to hold the portfolio, a telephone call from Karunanidhi to Sonia Gandhi will do to delay the necessary license to Jaya TV or to ensure that the Sun TV group bagged 67 out of the 338 FM Radio licenses. The Sun TV group could still have sold out 21 out of this 67 (because the law puts a ceiling of only 46 FM licenses to a single player) without having Dayanidhi Maran there as Minister for Telecommunications.

The ruling coalition being what it is and the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh being what he is, Karunanidhi could have and will have done all that was needed to ensure that his grand nephew grew richer and mightier. And lest it be misconstrued, the Sun TV group was growing and expanding between September 1999 and November 2003 as well. That was a time when Karunanidhi could pull strings in the Atal Behari Vajpayee cabinet as much as he can do now. The late Murasoli Maran was holding the Commerce Portfolio then and Dayanidhi Maran, then, was nowhere in the political scene.

The point here is that the Tata group could have been told that their application for award of DTH license will be processed and considered only if they agree to share the spoils of the business with Sun TV even if Dayanidhi Maran was not the Minister for Telecommunication. And the group would have done that because the profit from this business is indeed huge. Business houses, in any case, are used to such pressure. And there are very few instances where they have resisted such pressure. In other words, business houses have rarely shown the will or intent to fight against the illegitimate ways of the political class.

All this does not mean that there is no use making an issue of Dayanidhi Maran’s role in the Ministry of Telecommunication. There is indeed a clear case for Manmohan Singh to intervene and ensure that Dayanidhi Maran does not preside over the ministry when his own firm is among the players in the DTH business. This blatant incongruity should be corrected. But then, such a tinkering alone will not do. This should be accompanied by a commitment, in this instance, by the Sun TV group to stay out of the DTH business. Dayanidhi Maran owes that much to the DMK and Karunanidhi must ask his grand nephew to decide as to whether he wanted to be a political worker or a stakeholder in the Sun TV group.

Now, neither can Manmohan Singh ensure this nor will Sonia Gandhi muster the courage to convey this idea to Karunanidhi. And Karunanidhi himself will not think on these lines. The Left parties too cannot afford to place such a proposition before the DMK chief of in the Left-UPA steering committee. They have, after all, gained in their own small way in this context. Their own Kairali channel is a case in point. And hence there is nobody in the UPA who can be expected to call a spade a spade and ask Manmohan Singh to do something.

There is, however, a way out of all this. A movement against amorality is perhaps the only way out of this. The Maran-DTH-Tata episode, if it is true and the various other issues that have now come up against the Telecom Minister is rooted in the amorality that has come to guide most members of the political class. And there is no piecemeal solution to remove this canker. (EOM)


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