The 2G-scam is now officially a 2G non-scam, according to the court. Hence, this article will address it as such, and try to figure out why we have so many ‘non-scams’ in our country.
Spectrum, unlike cow fodder or artillery guns, does not physically exist. You can’t touch it, keep it in your pocket or lock it up in a safe. It is available, in thin air, for all to begin with. However, governments around the world restrict and sell spectrum use rights to telecom companies which need it to transmit calls and data to millions of individual users like you and me.
Selling mobile phone spectrum, hence, is a pretty neat way for the government to make money out of thin air. This is fine as long as the money is used for the welfare of the people.
The problem arises when licences are granted to some at a friends-and-family discount, versus what a competitive auction would generate. Of course, no politician does this in a blatant and open manner. Friends and family are favoured in subtle but effective ways. For instance, you can bring a licence application deadline forward and tell only your friends about it. Or, you can use a first-come-first-served process instead of an auction. All this happened in the 2G non-scam.
What also happened was that many such friends flipped and resold their licences (masking them as corporate M&A deals of course) for five to ten times more than what they paid for them, within months. Many thought this was enough proof that favours were done.
Hence, for a while, it did seem like a scam. The CAG went wild, stating a loss-to-exchequer figure so big it wouldn’t fit in a normal calculator. The Supreme Court found this family-and-friends-discount offer repulsive and cancelled all 122 licences. The media went crazy. Even the PM at the time softly called such events ‘coalition compromises’. Enraged people used their new smartphones, and the same tainted spectrum, to post their anger on social media. Some hit the streets. The government lost the next election. A CM became a PM too, and for many, a saviour that would rid India of all this corruption.
However, the court has now said ‘there is no scam’. The accused have been acquitted. The new-government controlled CBI could not find evidence at all. Meanwhile, we Indians were left scratching our heads wondering, ‘What happened? Are we idiots?’
What happened is this. We stopped caring about corruption. We cared about it from 2010 to 2014, when we expressed it on social media, streets and, finally, EVMs. After that, we had vented enough and we were done. Then we did what we do best – start worshipping or hating a leader, care about irrelevant issues such as caste/cows/religion far more than governance and stay as divided as we can be.
So imagine you are a politician. And you know people care about silly issues like cows or a Padmavati release far more than difficult issues like how courts handle scams. What would you do? Won’t it be simpler to let people discuss cows?
And this is the bitter truth about us Indians: we don’t care so much about corruption. Some politician stole some money a while back? Oh well, that’s what they do, who cares? Any random irrelevant Hindu-Muslim issue? Oh yes, bring it on. Tell me about that love jihad couple again?
We get the governance we care for. That is why we don’t have a good follow-through on scams (or non-scams). Sometimes, when corruption is of crazy amounts, it does bother us. However, it is transient, like a sneeze. A bit of anger expressed and we are done. Now we can go back to how cows are being disrespected.
The decision of 2G being a non-scam has come from the court, which isn’t the government, some might argue. However, the evidence had to be provided by the CBI, a government entity. It was never going to be easy. Corruption is no longer blatant or overt, with clear money exchanges anymore. It is all done in a subtle manner. A rule bent here, a favour granted there and a reward given in return at some later date and form. Only if public pressure is intense and sustained does any government keep corruption on top of the priority list. The 2G-non-scam is a clear example of what happens when citizens don’t have their values and priorities right.
So what is more important to you? The resolution of a scam that made your country lose billions, or the Muslim boy who ran away to marry a Hindu girl last week? Our collective answer will decide how many more non-scams we shall see in our country.