Abeleaguered Congress party is sensing a mauka (opportunity) in the naming of former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh as an accused in the murky Coal
scam. Suddenly, a dispirited party — caught between Rahul
Gandhi’s tantrums and the voters’ ire — has found an issue.
Left to them, Congress men would like Singh to spend at
least a weekend in jail so that they can marshal their rank and
file to take over some political space.
It is an open secret that Singh is not a popular figure in the
Congress, but party president Sonia Gandhi’s presence, support and strategy are proving a blessing for him.
Her defense of Singh is something that P V Narasimha Rao,
another former Congress party prime minister accused in a
corruption case, had lacked. Singh’s guru earned the dubious
distinction of becoming the first Indian PM to be accused of
and convicted (later acquitted by a higher court) in a corruption case; Singh is the second former PM to be summoned as
When Rao ran into rough times, she had remained indifferent and the party had left him to the wolves.
Rao was made an accused in the Lakhubhai Pathak bribery
case and had to appear as an accused before Special Judge
Ajit Bharihoke in Delhi. He suffered much indignity when
Judge Bharihoke kept asking if ‘accused number three’ was
present in court, till Rao, sitting right in front of the judge,
rose to say, ‘Present, sir.’ Judge Bharihoke glanced at the for-
In September 2000, Rao was convicted in the Jharkhand
Mukti Morcha bribery case. He was all alone when the news
of his conviction was communicated to him at 9, Motilal
Nehru Marg, New Delhi.
Except for Chandra Shekhar, Devendra Nath Dwivedi,
Maninderjit Singh Bitta and Bhuvnesh Chaturvedi, there was
nobody by his side in the numbing hours. Hundreds of
Congress men, who had enjoyed the fruits of power during
Rao’s tenure as PM between 1991 and 1996 were nowhere in
It was only late in the evening that Congress party president
Sonia Gandhi drove the furlong from her house at 10,
Janpath, to ‘console’ the man who earned the dubious distinction of becoming India’s first public servant-politician to be
convicted on corruption charges.
Officially, that day, the Congress party even refused to comment on the verdict. In fact, hours before Judge Bharihoke’s
verdict, Dwivedi, a former solicitor general and party general
secretary, had boasted that Rao would be acquitted. Perhaps
Dwivedi’s overconfidence had lulled Rao into believing that
he indeed stood in the clear. The judge’s words left him completely shattered.
Within the party, news of Rao’s conviction resulted in a
mixed responses: There was glee in some quarters, distress in
others. Sonia loyalists were pleased even though they did not
admit it openly.
During her brief interaction with Rao, Sonia reportedly
offered legal help to him, pointing to the Congress legal
department lawyers. Rao, though in grief, forced a smile, and
reportedly folded his hands to thank Sonia, ‘Madam, I wish to
get acquitted (which he did) and not weaken my case.’ The
Congress legal department was notorious for its incompetence and inefficiency.
Sonia’s presence, involvement and sympathy for Singh bring
a critical difference and explain why the economist is getting
the party’s backing while his mentor Rao remained isolated.
It remains to be seen if the Narendra Modi government,
under pressure from within to act against Singh and the
Nehru-Gandhi family, will try to ‘fix’ the former prime minister on charges that appear grave, or if it will let him breathe
In the Congress party’s assessment, the Modi government’s
action against Singh has the potential of appearing vindictive
— it feels Singh’s personal integrity will lead to sympathy —
but if the government adopts a go-slow approach it may upset
the hawkish elements within the Sangh Parivar.
‘Hand’ that rocked Rao’s boat after conviction stays with Singh
Rasheed Kidwai, author of books on Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party, analyzes the reaction to Manmohan Singh being named in the coal scam
October 3, 1977, when Central Bureau of Investigation
superintendent of police N K Singh knocked on the doors
of 12, Willingdon Crescent — Indira Gandhi’s home after
she stepped down as prime minister following her electoral
defeat — seeking her arrest, she had asked, ‘Where are the
handcuffs? Please handcuff me, else I am not leaving.’
Loyalist R K Dhawan quickly summoned some media-
persons while Bansi Lal requested the media corps to
keep her engaged in questions and answers, leaving the
field open for her lawyer Frank Anthony to argue with the
NLC demand and 81.5 percent of Hindalco’s
requirement would be met.
The total coal requirement from these blocks,
from the three main contenders, was 503 mt, with
NLC seeking 280 mt and Hindalco seeking 100 mt.
As NLC and MCL were proposing to set up a JV
power plant, NLC’s full requirements could be met
from MCL’s reserves in Talabira-III, the coal min-
It was also decided that the existing long-term
coal linkage of Hindalco would be reviewed and
suitably reduced. The arrangement was ‘fair to
both the companies’, Parakh had said. It was, how-
ever, not before July 2008 that a formal JV agree-
ment was signed between the three companies.
The special court, however, sees a criminal conspiracy in the nature of ‘umbrella-spoke enrollment’
where Hindalco was at the centre, making enrollment in the conspiracy of all those relevant persons
who were crucial to securing Talabira-II coal block.
‘It is also prima facie clear that though secretary
coal (Parakh) and Minister of Coal (Singh) were
playing different roles, there was a concerted joint
effort to somehow accommodate Hindalco in
Talabira-II coal block. It was the central common
objective of the impugned criminal conspiracy
known to all concerned,’ said the court.
With Singh being summoned along with Parakh
and Birla, the attempt is not just to establish the
illegality of the decision but also a conspiracy, even
though all captive coal blocks have already been
de-allocated by the Supreme Court last year.
By arrangement with Business Standard
How Manmohan Singh became ‘conspirator number 3’ in coal scam
Congress party Chief Sonia Gandhi with Manmohan Singh when he was prime minister. B MATHUR/REU TERS