India’s Manmohan Singh claims progress on corruption in wake of Supreme Court blow

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh claimed his government has made substantial progress in the fight against corruption, following calls for his immediate resignation in association with Thursday's Supreme Court ruling in the notorious 2G telecom spectrum scam.

As damage control, it was likely too little, too late. But the timing of the Court's ruling — amidst elections in five Indian states — made some reaction impossible to avoid, especially with the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party calling for Singh's immediate resignation.

According to the Times of India, Singh told a gathering of public servants that the government has moved "substantially forward" in curbing corruption and improving public services delivery system but acknowledged there is "still a long way" to go to ensure transparency, accountability and probity in public life. He also said that he was confident that the legislature would soon enact a law to create a strong Lokpal, or ombudsman, the chief demand of anti-corruption protesters led by Anna Hazare.

The speech comes just a day after a Supreme Court decision to cancel 122 tainted telecommunications licenses supposedly allotted on a first-come, first-served basis by former telecom minister A. Raja, as well as a ruling that a call to investigate Home Minister P. Chidambaram for his alleged role in the case should be decided by the trials court.

The implication was that the Supreme Court had found sufficient evidence to suspect that kickbacks were involved in the distribution of the licenses, though the associated criminal case against Raja and various other players is still underway. And even in refusing to grant plaintiff Subramanian Swamy's request and compel the Central Bureau of Investigation to launch a probe into Chidambaram, the court granted some ammunition to the harshest critics of Singh's Congress Party.

Okay, the BJP calls for Singh's resignation more often than Lindsay Lohan ditches rehab. But there's a little more meat on the bone than usual this time, as there does appear to be some evidence that Chidambaram was aware of the method Raja was using to allot telecom spectrum. 

The question, however, is whether there were any bribes or kickbacks, and if so, whether Chidambaram knew about them. Much has been made about the colossal — though nominal — loss to the treasury caused by the decision not to auction the telecom licenses. But if the first-come, first-served formula was followed without any money changing hands, one could argue that it was an attempt — misguided or no — to pass savings on to end-users, and resulted in one of the world's cheapest and fastest growing mobile markets.

Of course, that's a pretty big "if."

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