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Friday, August 17, 2001



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UTI scandal: Behind the scenes

Kuldip Nayar

IT IS still a mystery how the Finance Minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, has been able to escape the ugliness of the UTI mess. The middle-class, the backbone of the BJP-led coalition at New Delhi, has lost crores of rupees. Many of those who took a hit expecte d the party to appoint a new minister to prove that the BJP had punished Mr Sinha.

The articulate Law Minister, Mr Arun Jaitley, was mentioned as a possible successor to Mr Sinha. Still, Mr Sinha's almost defiant statement that he would not quit has turned out to be correct. Two developments seem to have favoured him.

One, the infighting raging in the BJP did not allow any firm opinion on Mr Sinha's resignation to emerge. Both the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and the Home Minister, Mr L. K. Advani, reportedly leading two opposite camps, did not consider Mr Sinha important enough to put their respective strengths to test. He, too, has been clever enough to be loyal to both of them. By retaining him, the two camps covered up the differences that would have come into the open had there been the question of f inding Mr Sinha's successor.

Two, the unexpected turn which the criticism of Mr Sinha took in Parliament. During the debate on the UTI scandal in the Rajya Sabha, one Shiv Sena member injected in his speech the name of Vajpayee's foster son-in-law, Mr Ranjan Bhattacharjee. This was enough to divert the attention from Mr Sinha. He was seen at best as an accomplice, not the main actor.

The Prime Minister's threat to quit changed the situation further. The focus shifted to Mr Vajpayee's resignation. The Advani lobby was caught unawares. It was not ready for the development. It surrendered abjectly. Mr Sinha was forgotten. The rest was a nti-climax.

What the whole episode has, however, proved is that the BJP is a divided house. The equation between Messrs Vajpayee and Advani is not the same equation as in the past. Some BJP members have soured the relationship between the two. It is difficult to say who conveyed to Mr Vajpayee that he had been described as an old man. But the remark was attributed to Mr Advani. After Mr Vajpayee's threat to quit, things have calmed down a bit.

Yet, the impression is that the atmosphere would have been far better if Mr Advani had been at the helm of affairs. The Congress(I)'s demand for his resignation over the killings of Jammu has put his supporters on the defensive. But their effort to proje ct Mr Advani has not slackened. Some pressmen too have jumped into the arena.

Indeed, there is a debate going on within the BJP whether Mr Advani would be acceptable to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in case Mr Vajpayee were to step down. The feeling is that the NDA constituents would have no option if they wanted to stay in power.

In reply to the direct question -- what would be the BJP's reaction if the NDA did not accept Mr Advani -- a top party leader said: ``We would rather go for a mid-term poll than have anyone else as our leader.'' One can understand the compulsions of the NDA or, for that matter, the BJP, not to let the UTI scandal linger. But the volte-face of the Congress(I) is unacceptable. The party was so worked up on the day the scandal hit the headlines. It looked as if the Congress would not allow Parliament to fu nction till Mr Sinha had quit. All of a sudden, the criticism waned and even interruptions in both houses were half-hearted. It was apparent that something had happened behind the scenes.

What probably did the trick was the reference to the Reliance and the Tatas during the debate. Both companies had a clue to what was going on because both of them had encashed their UTI certificates five days earlier. Surprisingly, the names of both did not figure anywhere in the discussion in Parliament after the first day. Did they manage or, to put it differently, how did they manage it? It seems that when it comes to the corporate world, both the BJP and the Congress are wary of going beyond certain limits. The clout of big business is to be seen to be believed.

How one wishes that Mr Sinha had owned up the moral responsibility. It is no use passing the buck to the former UTI chief, Mr P. S. Subramanyam, who has openly said that he had made certain investments on orders from above. He reportedly wrote three lett ers and spoken over the phone to Mr Sinha on May 18, June 15 and June 30. All this deepens the suspicion. So does the controversy over the Mr Subramanyam's appointment. Did the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms Jayalalitha, speak to Mr Sinha as the NDA Conve nor, Mr George Fernandes, alleges or is she a scapegoat?

Another JPC would have been in order. But for reasons best known to the Congress, it did not press for the resignation of Mr Sinha and compromised over the UTI scandal being referred to the JPC, which is going into the stock market scam. The Parliamentar y Affairs Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, must be a happy man because he has been able to get into the sitting JPC a couple of people without any representative capacity.

One notices sadly that political parties have stopped becoming bothered about what is right and what is wrong. There is not even a desire to act according to what is right. Yet, if the nation is to preserve the fundamental values of a democratic society every person -- whether a public functionary or a private citizen -- must display a degree of vigilance and willingness to sacrifice. The UTI scandal has shown what goes on behind the scenes and that the Government cares little about the people's savings .

Related links:
`Give me a chance to counter charges': Sinha
Sinha fully aware of UTI crisis: Opposition
We were kept in the dark: Sinha

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