NEW DELHI — Former Union Communications and Information Technology Minister Andimuthu Raja has claimed in an interview to be published later this month that he was framed, victimized and jailed for wanting to break existing monopolies in the telecom sector.
In an exclusive free-wheeling and candid interview given to the India Legal magazine at his Gulmohar Park residence, Raja, who had to spend 15 months in Tihar Jail for his role in the alleged 2G telecom scam, and is now out on bail, said, "One day, 2G will be my strength.... I was victimized for breaking the monopolies."
Often seen as the blue-eyed boy of DMK patriarch and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, whose party was part of the UPA coalition, a combative Raja described his stay in jail as a different experience.
"Having spent about 13 years as an MP and a cabinet minister, Tihar did offer a different perspective. Apart from the accompanying trauma, I read lots of books. As far as the charges against me were concerned, my conscience was very clear. Life in Tihar actually made me stronger to fight the case legally. I decided to use this negative opportunity to positively establish my achievements in the telecom sector," he said.
When asked whether his time in jail had made him more spiritual, he said, "I am an atheist and never hesitate to say so. However, I do not have any problem with spirituality if it acts as a social force or as a self-searching exercise, provided it is not accompanied by irrational assumptions."
Apart from reading, Raja said that he spent his time in jail giving legal advice to some of the inmates, and added that this gave him immense satisfaction.
"I had to keep myself physically and mentally fit. And because of that, I know 2G will be my strength. I was very busy dealing with the Himalayan charge-sheet that is over a lakh pages! Apart from my routine physical exercises and badminton, I spent most of my time with books. They were my friends and helped me to deal with my loneliness. Some of the books were: Off the Bench by V R Krishna Iyer; Breaking India by Rajiv Malhotra; Sources of Indian Tradition edited by Stephen Hay; India since 1950 by Christopher Jaferelot; A History of God by Karen Armstrong; Judicial Activism in India by S P Sathe; Hinduism and Law by Timothy Lubian and others and Law and Justice by Soli Sorabjee. I once again read my leader's famous book, Nenjukku Neethi (Justice for Conscious), which always gives me strength to cross hurdles and injustice," the former telecom minister said.
When asked whether he was planning to write about his days in jail, Raja told India Legal, "I am writing a book to be published by Penguin, but it is not just about my days in jail. It will talk about why I was put there and how I was charged with corruption as I had allegedly abused power. The truth is that I waged a war against monopoly, cartelization and surreptitious exploitation of a natural source. I am not the only person who was charged for a crime I did not commit. I was charged because I stopped the telecom monopoly from committing fraud and crime. Truth will prevail. History will absolve me."
Even today, Raja says that he is quite proud to be referred to as "Spectrum King", maintaining that credit should go to him for reducing call rates to enable the general public to access 3G levels of communications.
He also said he did not seek bail for more than a year on grounds that he believed in waiting for justice to be delivered to him. He said what he was accused of was based on notional and presumptive loss to the national exchequer, and not actual loss, but since the matter remains sub-judice, he did not intend to share something that would prejudice ongoing proceedings in court.
"Constitutional bodies like the CAG should uphold the constitution equally with others. Some provisions of the constitution are made on the basis of the presumption that the "King can do no wrong". Unfortunately, there is no remedial provision when this presumption became predilections. There is a Saxon maxim: "High and Extraordinary Justice is Injustice." So, the reason why I didn't file for bail is simple-I was waiting for justice," he said.
Without naming former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh or former finance minister P. Chidambaram, Raja said that he was denied his rights "because of their silence."
"Now, they are paying the price," he added.
When asked to elaborate, he said, "The investigation is wrong. CAG is wrong. The honorable Supreme Court clearly said the CAG report would be the basis of prosecution, but now the CBI admits it did not go by the CAG report. It conducted a so-called independent investigation. We cannot have it both ways. Prima facie, is the CAG report correct or not? The order passed by the Supreme Court must be honored. How can a constitutional authority not be obeyed by the CBI? What must be the riddle behind it?
Raja today maintains that with regard to the allocation of 2G spectrum, he followed the law and the legacy as laid down by TRAI.
"I was just following the legacy laid down and that is my duty. Under our constitution, the business of government is allotted to ministers, and then, the transaction of business rules is prescribed. For the Telecom Ministry, there is a regulator which has to decide certain issues, including the entry fee. This was discussed with the finance minister directly and by the exchange of letters," he said.
When asked whether he was ready for an independent investigation, Raja said, " Both I and my party wanted to have a JPC probe or even a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to be appointed to investigate 2G. But some people in the Congress turned down this demand and convinced their leaders. On this score, the parliament was stalled for 45 days. This was one of the reasons why the Supreme Court had to take a high moral ground. If there was a JPC, I would have had the opportunity to explain everything. I was ready for the JPC. They had an irrational phobia. I do not know why."
He further stated, "I wanted to break the cartel. I disclosed how much spectrum was available. To maintain a level-playing field, we did not assign a cost. But those who got it free earlier, wanted to stop new players. Established monopoly players like Bharti had a free run until 2007. There had never been an auction before and because I wanted a level playing field for new players, we did not go in for an auction. It was also the statutory recommendation of TRAI. So these established monopolies went running to the PM even though they already had got 10 megahertz free. The PM sent me a note with an unsigned annexure. Have you ever heard of such a thing? In the letter, he told me not to proceed without consulting him, so he trapped himself in legal issues. So, I wrote back telling him what I did. Now that is being produced as evidence in the court and that is why he is being called to depose by the opposition. I still stand by every decision I took. Investigations by the ED and other agencies could find no evidence of bribes and there is no case of disproportionate assets against me."