UPA’s spin doctors scoring big points in 2G spectrum scam

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is winning and winning big in its bid to ride out the 2G storm. Right from the start, it has mixed doughty defense with extraordinary cunning, and exploited the good name of the prime minister to huge advantage. In a more mature democracy, a scam of such epic proportions would have brought down the government in quick time. But what we have is a flawed and, if you will, jungle version of democracy, and so the UPA might eventually even gain in strength.

Look at Manmohan Singh’s offer to submit himself to the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for questioning. It was a master stroke, announced over a week ago and carried out to much praise yesterday. Besides putting a very positive spin for the party, it has split the opposition further.

Sushma Swaraj, the Opposition leader in the Lok Sabha, is right when she says the offer is of no consequence because Lok Sabha rules bar the PAC from calling any minister, “much less the prime minister,” as she said in a tweet this morning. By the way, Swaraj is the latest political celebrity to take to Twitter, taking to the microblogging site as the year winds down.

But her view exacerbates her differences with her party colleague, Murli Manohar Joshi, who chairs the PAC. It also deepens the divide within the party – among those who continue to back the demand for a JPC, or Joint Parliamentary Committee, probe of the spectrum scam and those who think the tactic should be dumped because it is losing friends for the party. The deeper divisions come at just the time when the party, not to mention the entire opposition, should bury its differences.

For the UPA, Singh’s offer to the PAC has been one of a multi-pronged effort to blunt the opposition. It has used Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, another party elder with a clean record, to mount public campaigns or to lead efforts to reach agreement over the Parliamentary shutdown. It also has used every device to divert attention – e.g. demanding a probe of alleged links between Niira Radia, the controversial public relations woman, and former Civil Aviation Minister Ananth Kumar of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party); and or new Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal’s to come up with an inexplicable number Rs. 1.43 lakh crore ($32.50 billion) for alleged loss of revenue caused by the sale of spectrum during the BJP’s rule.

So far, the political battle over the 2G spectrum has been lopsided. So much so, you could wonder if the UPA is really the accused. That is because the opposition continues to betray poor tactics and has won few points, even though most of the nation is outraged by the sheer size of the $40 billion scam. The UPA, in contrast, has kept its cool and heeded the advice of an impressive bank of lawyers in its ranks (Sibal, among others). So much so, one fears it may ride out the storm with little collateral loss other than Andimuthu Raja, the former minister at the center of the scam. And he belongs to the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) anyway.