NEW DELHI: Was the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)'s 10 years in office tantamount to the "inheritance of loss" for the country?
Or was the last 10 years of the Narendra Modi-National Democratic Alliance a period of injustice?
Can everything be in black and white in politics that we know as the art of possibility or which is synonymous with strange bedfellows.
As accusations and counter-accusations fly thick and fast following the Centre's White Paper and the Black Paper released by Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge on Thursday, we explain why “inheritance of loss” may be a misnomer.
INHERITANCE OF LOSS
True to her words during the interim budget, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman laid a White Papar on the economy in the Lok Sabha, which said the NDA government rescued the economy from a state of crisis, despair and paralysis — following the UPA era's "inheritance of loss".
The 47-page White Paper, brought just ahead of the closure of adjournment of the 17th Lok Sabha, talks about "dynamism, growth and hope" which has replaced the UPA's "policy statis and misgovernance", as reported by The Hindu.
The 'White Paper on the Indian Economy' highlights "pervasive corruption" during 10 years of the UPA rule between 2004 and 2014, listing a number of high-profile cases including, coal block allocation, Commonwealth Games, 2G scam, Saradha chit fund, INX Media case, Aircel-Maxis, Antrix-Devas deal, land-for-jobs, Panchkula and Gurgaon land scams, J&K Cricket Association, the Embraer deal: Pilatus Basic Aircraft Trainer, Hawk aircraft purchase, Adarsh Housing Society scam and Augusta Westland Helicopter scam.
2G, COAL: THE SHOW STOPPERS
Among the most talked about scams that were the undoing of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) were coal block allocation and 2G scam.
The 2G spectrum scam and the coal blocks allocation cases significantly contributed to the perception of corruption within the UPA II government.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reports on these matters indicated substantial losses to the exchequer.
The 2G spectrum scam was estimated to have resulted in a loss of Rs 1.75 lakh crore, while the coal blocks allocation was reported to have caused a loss of Rs 1.8 lakh crore.
The latter was often referred to as "the mother of all scams" due to its scale and impact, further eroding public trust in the government during that period.
These instances of corruption became major issues that shaped political discourse and public opinion during the UPA II era.
But when in October 2020, a special CBI court convicted Dilip Ray, minister of state for coal in the AB Vajpayee government in 1999, for his alleged involvement in the coal block allocation scandal, focus shifted to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that has tried to portray itself as the party with a difference. Ray had been convicted along with five others.
Numerous convictions have occurred in various coal block cases, but the conviction of Ray marks the first instance of a minister from the NDA being found guilty.
At the time when the allegations emerged, Ray was associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Such convictions contribute to the broader discourse on accountability and corruption within the political landscape.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has achieved multiple convictions in the coal block allocation cases even while In the the 2G spectrum case, all the accused were acquitted.
Talking of the coal scam, even as the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) referred the cases to the CBI, a Parliamentary Standing Committee report indicated that the allocation of coal blocks between 1993 and 2008 was conducted in an unauthorized manner, raising concerns and placing even the NDA period under scrutiny.
The Supreme Court, recognizing the gravity of the situation, took proactive measures by directing the CBI to report directly to the court, bypassing the government.
According to The Indian Express, then PM Manmohan Singh rebutted allegations of fraud and even questioned CAG’s computations in Parliament.
He had argued that West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Rajasthan — which were ruled by Opposition parties then — were strongly opposed to a switchover to competitive bidding as they felt it would increase the cost of coal, adversely impact value addition and development of industries in their areas and would dilute their prerogative in the selection of lessees.
On the idea of “windfall gains”, Singh said computation of extractable reserves based on averages would not be correct.
He argued against a loss to the exchequer, Singh said part of the gains would in any case get appropriated by the government through taxation.
RAJA A REVOLUTIONARY?
It was an irony that the BJP that is credited with bringing down the UPA over scams saw the key accused in the 2G scam, A Raja, former telecom minister, go free in December 2017, declaring himself a “revolutionary” — this case points to the anomaly of many UPA-era scam cases, pursued by the NDA, going nowhere.
A Delhi court on December 21, 2017 acquitted all accused, including Raja and DMK Rajya Sabha member Kanimozhi, of corruption and money laundering charges in the 2G spectrum allocation cases.
Following his acquittal in the 2G spectrum case, Raja characterised himself as a revolutionary who had been unfairly labeled as a criminal.
In expressing his perspective, he claimed credit for bringing about a revolution in the telecom sector.
Raja, 'In My Defense', while presenting his side of the story, says former prime minister Manmohan Singh had "lost the mental strength to stand straight against motivated accusations and noisy media and was being misled" by his colleagues, some working in his own office.
Raja, who has devoted three chapters of his book to former comptroller and auditor general Vinod Rai, who had quantified the notional loss at Rs 1.76 lakh crore, called the latter the symbol of "abuse of power".
This kind of guts requires political protection from all sides.
While Raja serves as member of Parliament for the Nilgiris constituency and deputy general secretary for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Kanimozhi Karunanidhi is a member of Parliament, representing Thoothukkudi constituency in the Lok Sabha.
It is difficult to find fault with politicians of any single party.
The rot is deeper and the BJP has hardly helped matters with many "tainted leaders" allegedly welcomed in in the NDA ranks recently.
'PERIOD OF INJUSTICE'
Meanwhile, the Congress party, on Thursday, unveiled a "black paper" to underscore what it deemed as the "failures" of the Modi government.
The document alleged that the past 10 years were marked by "injustice," citing concerns such as escalating prices, unemployment, erosion of institutional integrity, and perceived "discrimination" against states not aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
This move by the Congress aimed to draw attention to what the party viewed as shortcomings in the governance and policies of the Modi-led administration.
The "black paper", released by Mallikarjun Kharge, who was flanked by party leaders Pawan Khera and Syed Naseer Hussain, highlights social, economic and political "injustices" committed during the Modi government's tenure.
While the main opposition party’s accusations are nothing short of political grandstanding, not all it says can be dismissed as just another matter.
Politics is anything but black and white.
Here is what the Congress said on Thursday: "Non-BJP ruled states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh are being discriminated against and neglected."
The Modi government was "extorting" money through the route of electoral bonds, Kharge alleged.
"They are using this money to finish democracy. They made 411 MLAs cross over to their side. We had elected governments in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Manipur and Uttarkhand. You know how governments were made to fall... Their (BJP) job is to finish democracy," Mint quoted him as saying.
If you add the GST, demonetisation and other other contentious issues such as Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), you begin to think there is nothing like black and white in politics — talk of dynamism, growth and hope.
There are many grey areas surrounding the government as well as the opposition.