In this episode of Rajpath, economist and former Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia speaks to The Quint’s Editorial Director Sanjay Pugalia on a range of issues pertaining to the state of the Indian economy, and also looks back on his years in government.
Here is an excerpt from the interview, where Ahluwalia talks about the time Manmohan Singh asked him if he should step down as prime minister, and the worrying dilemma facing the telecom sector today.
When Manmohan Singh Asked Ahluwalia If He Should Step Down as PM
In your book ‘Backstage: The Story Behind India’s High Growth Years’, you have naturally written a lot about Dr Manmohan Singh. One incident you mention is about the time your brother Sanjeev wrote an article about Dr Singh, and you spoke to the PM about it. Tell us what happened.
Montek Singh Ahluwalia: At a press conference, Rahul Gandhi had criticised an ordinance brought in by the UPA government that would prevent convicted legislators from being disqualified from their positions if they had filed an appeal in a higher court. A lot of people said that Rahul’s actions reduced the dignity of the Prime Minister and therefore, the PM should resign. My brother too, had written on those lines.
As is a former IAS officer, he wrote that “You are our Prime Minister, you are not the Prime Minister of a party. You should resign. And lots of people want Rahul to come in. Let him run the show.”
I felt that Sanjeev had given quite a strong statement. He had emailed me to say that this is what he’d written, and he added, “I hope this doesn’t embarrass you.” I was in New York at the time, as part of the PM’s delegation. I went to the PM’s suite and spoke to him about it.
Dr Manmohan Singh asked me, “Do you think I should resign?”
I told him, “I don’t think that you should resign based on this issue.”
In my book, I have written about how I wondered whether I was saying that thinking it was the response he would like to hear, or if that was my real response.
When I thought about it all, I realised that the substantive issue that Rahul had raised was correct. The ordinance would help those who are convicted, and the public would feel that the government was helping people who are accused of corruption.
Now, it was a different issue whether he should have raised the matter.
Or how he should have raised it...
Montek Singh Ahluwalia: The thing is that Rahul was not working in the government, he was working as a party leader. I feel that inner party democracy is a good thing. In sophisticated countries, it is not necessary that if the president is from your party, you cannot disagree with him. It’s a different matter if you are a Cabinet member, then you can’t say that.
I didn’t think that the prime minister should resign. Because, see, even if he had to resign, on which basis would he have resigned?
He couldn’t have resigned on the grounds that it was an issue of principle by saying that we allowed convicted legislators to avoid disqualification. The other thing was that if he resigned, it would seem as if he did so because he felt bad that his own party member had criticised him.
The Current Telecom Dilemma
As the telecom department (DoT) ordered the telecom operators to pay their Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues by midnight on Friday, 14 February, Ahluwalia commented on the circumstances that the telecom sector has found itself in.
He said, “The telecom sector is in a lot of stress right now. I won't say that the government wants to destroy the sector because it could have done something worse. Our laws have good intentions behind them but the institution that we establish to implement them can have a lot of loopholes. Out of the three major companies, two might collapse unless the government does something. Let’s wait and see.”
Talking about AGR, Ahluwalia added, “If you will suddenly direct them to include certain revenues, which the bidders did not anticipate then...if you will put such a big burden on the companies, then, it will naturally become a huge problem.”
“The government will see how to interpret the law. But if this interpretation by the government is correct, then the law must be faulty. And it shouldn't have been done. The problem is that if anyone says that the law should be changed, people will say that it was done to favour a company.”
The Supreme Court has ordered contempt proceedings against major telecom operators, after the companies did not comply with its order of paying the AGR to the Department of telecommunications (DoT), a due amount of Rs 1.47 lakh crore.
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