BY THE time you read this, Union Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran should have either resigned or been fired from the Union Cabinet for his alleged involvement in a Rs 700 crore telecom scam.
It all started with TEHELKA’s cover story (Hello? Who will bell this cat? by Ashish Khetan and Raman Kirpal, 4 June), which revealed that former telecom minister Maran and his brother and Sun Group founder Kalanidhi might have received kickbacks in exchange for telecom licences. Since then, things have begun to unravel around the Marans.
The CBI is now probing complaints that during his tenure as telecom minister from 2004 to 2007, Maran forced the former owner of Aircel to sell his company to a Malaysia-based firm, known for its proximity to the Marans. C Sivasankaran told the CBI on 7 June that Maran had refused to grant licences to Aircel for several years, forcing him to eventually sell the company to A Anantha Krishnan’s Maxis Group. The new owner was granted 14 licences in no time. A few months later, Krishnan invested Rs 800 crore in Sun TV and Sun Direct, both owned by Kalanidhi. The CBI is likely to file an FIR in the next few weeks after confirming the allegations levelled by Sivasankaran.
In its dossier to the PM, the CBI has also reportedly confirmed that Maran had close to 300 telephone lines set up at his home in Chennai’s Boat Club area. These lines were allegedly made available at no cost to the Sun TV office and were used for transferring video and other data.
Further, the CAG has suggested that Maran is involved in the 2G spectrum case too. The CAG has also told the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probing the allocation of telecom licences over the past decade, that Maran was instrumental in ensuring the ministry had complete authority to fix spectrum prices. This overturned an earlier arrangement in which a group of ministers had responsibility. Eventually, in the 2G case, and in the allocation of licences to Maxis, this led to deals being struck at 2001 prices, causing a 38,000 crore loss to the exchequer. Now, Maran will have to depose for the JPC along with the 85 witnesses summoned.
Maran has denied all charges against him. “Nobody can force anyone to sell business. I have never had to force anyone. If anyone felt they were being forced, they could have gone to court,” he told the media. In fact, he sued Tehelka, The Economic Times and The New Indian Express for carrying “defamatory articles” against him. In another blow, share prices of Sun Network and SpiceJet nosedived by nearly 30 percent and 20 percent respectively. Sun owns a controlling stake in SpiceJet.
The pressure is mounting, especially as Maran’s granduncle and DMK chief M Karunanidhi maintains a stony silence. Maran has been insisting that the allegations were questioning not just him, but also his party’s integrity. This is in sharp contrast to when Karunanidhi openly insisted on the innocence of his daughter Kanimozhi and A Raja in the 2G spectrum scam. The UPA too did not let down Raja till the CBI arrested him, but has left Maran to fend for himself.
Today, Maran stands alone. It is perhaps the sign of the soured relationship between the UPA and the DMK since the 2G scam, and the party’s weakened position after its electoral defeat. The last time Maran resigned, it was to placate his miffed granduncle. The reasons, as proof of scandal after scandal indicate, are less personal this time. Hemmed in, the question now is not if, but when he will resign.