Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Vinod Rai is not just an accountant

Book Review: Non-fiction/Not Just an Accountant: The Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper by Vinod Rai, Rupa, 267pp; Rs500 (Hardback)

Vinod Rai is not just accountant – he is an impulsive writer too who writes diary to keep the conscience of the nation, as confirmed by him through the title of his truly sensational book. He has been a newsmaker even before publicly turning a diarist, unlike Anne Frank who could put forth her jottings only for invisible readers away from Nazi Concentration Camp.

Comparisons between the authors are like chalk and cheese, but one feature is strikingly common: both resisted the extreme tendencies of a ruling regime even though in different time, characteristics and conditions.

When the reader finishes Rai’s book, it is hard to miss the feeling that this account was written to contest former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s silence when the UPA-II government was limping from one scam to another. At peak of those free-wheeling scam days, Prime Minister Singh stated: “I honestly believe that history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media. I feel somewhat sad, because I was the one who insisted that spectrum allocation should be transparent, it should be fair, it should be equitable. I was the one who insisted that coal blocks should be allocated on the basis of auctions. These facts are forgotten.”

The nagging question is, how kinder history would be to Manmohan Singh. Rai, who scrutinized the government’s performance in those scam years as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), obviously thinks that the then Prime Minister’s silence and apparent inability to prevent those scandals were a giveaway. By sharing the clue in glaring details, he probes why India’s thriving telecom business will be in mess after a shady allocation of spectrums right under the nose of Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The earlier press coverages on the whole mess and now this book give enough indications for Mr. Singh to come forward and reciprocate with his autobiography in no time, where he could make a stand clear about the lapses happened during his stint. After reading Rai’s book, one concludes that this is a good way for the former Prime Minister to redeem himself if he wants to get history’s judgment.

Rai examined the inappropriateness in the allocation in 2G telecom licenses and coal mines, both of which defrauded government money. This book documents all his findings, which show the then PM was not clueless of what was going around him. But he did little to stop the misuse of power, and no damage control was attempted. That was a scandal of its own. The scars of those scandals tainted not only his government, but himself, too.

Rai reminds that through a piece of his communication with PMO: “You (Manmohan Singh) engaged in a routine and 'distanced' handling of the entire allocation process, in spite of the fact that the then Communications Minister A Raja had indicated to you, in writing, the action he proposed to take. Insistence on the process being fair could have prevented the course of events during which canons of financial propriety were overlooked, unleashing what probably is the biggest scam in the history of Independent India.”

These few lines are enough to establish a policy decision like spectrum licensing could not be made without having green signal from the country’s highest office, PMO – also that the role of PM should not be reduced to a passive by-stander. Therefore, even though Singh is still considered a man of high integrity, his tenure as India’s chief executive was feckless and tame. That is the damning impression Rai's book conveys.

K Natwar Singh’s One Life is not Enough,TSR Subramanian’s India at Turning Point,Bimal Jalan and P Balakrishnan’s(ed) Politics Trumps Economicsand Sanjay Baru’sThe Accidental Prime Minister are the prominent critiques of the UPA government. Now, Rai's book adds to the wealth of uncomfortable truths about the UPA's 10-year rule.

Making predicament more obstinate, the hibernation is prolonging inside the Congress Party. Its old or new school lieutenants are lost without causes – having been not known to live in opposition, they seem loosing their edge with pen and mind as well.

So, let’s hope more such unfriendly books about the yore days – and all those to be not answered from privileged heads of India’s oldest party, now marginalised below the ground. An accountant could be an effective multi-tasker, Rai has proved it. To know the capital trails, this book too would be in essential list!
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in INCLUSION)

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