Ex CAG Vinod Rai Book review and Manmohan Singh’s autobiography

Vinod Rai Book Review : One thing comes to mind after reading Vinod Rai’s book. In a World of blabbermouths, a less speaking man such as Manmohan Singh is at a big disadvantage.

In the marketing build up for his book, Ex CAG Vinod Rai kept estimating Former PM Manmohan Singh as a man of integrity, and a weak a Prime Minister. Both things can’t be true at the same time. If Manmohan Singh is the man of integrity then he can’t be weak. At the same time, if he’s weak then he can’t be a man of integrity. Only ex Comptroller and Auditor General knows how this dichotomy can co-exist. That apart, he kept attacking the UPA 2 Government on 2G. Something which gave him the tag of a feisty crusader against the excesses of elected governments, or more aptly of UPA 2. A tag which may not be quite true.

vinod rai book reviewWhy? As on reading his book Just Not An Accountant: The Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper , one realizes that he failed to notice or willingly ignored some basic facts of modern business, Government Policies and federal democratic state.

Vinod Rai’s entire argument that the former PM failed to prevent the 2G scam, is based on the premise that ministers and politicians under him allotted 2G spectrum at throwaway prices to unworthy companies (new companies) in return of kickbacks. The presence of kickbacks may not be wrong, but what is wrong is the definition of unworthy companies. Since Telecom is a new sector in India, except for Airtel every other company is bound to be new to this sector. They may be big business houses but they are unlikely to have experience in Telecom. That apart, a small license buyer selling its license latter on to a bigger player is a usual practice in business. This is how markets achieve oligopoly (a couple of big players in the market). Ask yourself how many telecom players India has at present, and you will get the answer.

What CAG presented to the parliament was presumptive loss to the Government resulting from the allocation of spectrum at below the presumptive right price. Here presumptive word is important. It’s because of the word presumptive, the CAG seems to have arrived at a notional figure of this or or that Lakhs of crores of loss to the Government. It seems that Vinod Rai’s CAG report on 2G spectrum allocation was based on presumptive loss. That’s former CAG Vinod Rai first presumed that there are no facts to make the claim and then built up facts over the presumption. This resulted in a presumptive loss which Mr. Rai presumed go into Lakhs of crores. This presumption seems to have led to him asserting that the spectrum was sold at a throw away prices. An assertion which can be debated as India has one of the lowest call rates in the World. The Government might have taken cut on its revenue so that the benefits can be passed on by way of cheaper telecom services to the people of India. The day the allocation was cancelled, the call rates started increasing as well.

Regarding coal allocation, one of the few biggest facts Vinod Rai ignored in his book are: One, the Coal reserves are with the States. If the Chief Minister of that state opposes coal auction (the states with most coal reserves have BJP led Governments as well), then how can a PM press on allocation. In a federal country like India, a PM who puts pressure can be blamed as one disrespecting federalism and can easily be called autocratic. Two, the Government followed the existing policy (by its own admission). If that’s the case them even CAG must not build a castle by presuming facts. Any loss or gain in a Government decision must be based on the policy itself.

After reading Vinod Rai’s book one thing comes to mind. In the World of blabbermouths (a person who talks excessively or indiscreetly), a less speaking man such as Manmohan Singh is at a big disadvantage. In such a World men like Manmohan Singh are a easy target. In a “Less speaking, or Think before you speak” World, Manmohan Singh wouldn’t be called ‘impotent’, ‘weak sardar’ etc. This appears to be the case for Manmohan Sing, people misread his silence for the lack of internal strength.

Vinod Rai’s book is selling like hot cakes, but to me it’s not a great book. The reasons I have already mentioned above. In a recent book signing event, when asked about his thoughts on former PM Dr Manmohan Singh’s plan to pen his memoirs, Rai reminded the audience about all the letters he had addressed to Manmohan Singh asking for an explanation for the 2G scam. This proves he worked more than an auditor.

In the same event, when a some asked if a well-known business family was indeed ruling the country, as was often speculated in public, he replied, “I haven’t audited the said business group, so I wouldn’t know if they had set aside funds for governing the country.” This is how an auditor must work. Must limit himself to numbers, and leave speculation to others.