After PM’s promise at tele-media conference, corruption crackdown begins

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By Sanjay K. Jha

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is determined to act on his promise made on television to bring to book all wrongdoers however high and mighty  they are, government sources said.

The CBI interrogation of Anil Ambani on February 16 and that of Essar CEO Prashant Ruia on February 17 are being viewed as decisions that could not have been taken without the Prime Minister’s nod.

More corporate big guns and a few politicians could be interrogated over the 2G scam by next week, the sources said.

The Prime Minister also sent a subtle message to industry that the BJP was blocking vital reforms for a petty reason such as the arrest of former Gujarat Minister Amit Shah, the sources said, pointing to Singh’s statement on the delay in implementation of the goods and services tax.

“Don’t ignore the Prime Minister’s understated fact. The corporate bosses, who were heaping praise on Narendra Modi should introspect about larger issues,” a PMO official said.

On Modi’s response that the charge was laughable, the official said: “He is describing it as laughable but not denying it. Let him deny it. The Prime Minister won’t make such a charge without substance and basis.”

Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari  said this was a serious issue and “a measure of the responsibility of the main Opposition party.” He also asked advocates of economic reforms to note that a party was blocking a crucial decision because of an individual facing criminal charges. The Gujarat Chief Minister is alleged to have forced the  BJP to oppose the reform because Shah was being probed by the CBI in a fake encounter case.

The Prime Minister’s performance on television February 16 has received unambiguous support from the Congress Party, which is happy with the manner in which he handled complex issues during the interaction with editors.

The PMO sources said measures to firm up the processes of governance, strengthen the legal framework to fight corruption and a major bureaucratic reshuffle were on the way.

Asked if Sonia Gandhi supported the plans, both government and party sources said speculation of differences between the Congress president and the Prime Minister was baseless.

The Congress’s media department chairperson, Janardan Dwivedi, said: “The party is completely with the Prime Minister. The party agrees with what he said on February 16. There is no ambiguity on that.”

On criticism about lack of bravado and alleged reluctance to demonstrate authority, Dwivedi said: “Every Prime Minister has a distinct persona. Manmohan Singh rarely gets aggressive and deals with issues in his own style. There is no problem in that.”

Congress leaders also supported the Prime Minister’s stand on coalition, and said no one would disagree that single-party governments offer more freedom of governance. “Coalition does create compulsions,” a party general secretary said, adding this was not criticism of any alliance partner.

The Prime Minister came out as honest and forthright, he said.

Asked why so many scandals had broken out during his regime, the general secretary said: “The personal integrity of the Prime Minister does not mean the whole government machinery would automatically be honest. Steps are required to be taken for that and he is making efforts.”

Congress leaders also defended the Prime Minister against criticism that he had in his reply on 2G losses compared scams with subsidies. The Prime Minister was only trying to explain that the government’s policies are not merely aimed at maximising profits, they said.

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