The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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May scandal scrubbed off in September
- Gingee Ramachandran comes out of bribe shadow to re-enter ministry

New Delhi, Sept. 8: And Gingee Ramachandran is now an honourable man.

Only four months ago, Ramachandran had to resign after his personal assistant, R. Perumalswamy, was caught taking a bribe. No one hemmed or hawed, there were no ifs and buts, Caesar’s wife — in this case, junior to finance minister Jaswant Singh — had to be above suspicion even.

In a Delhi court, A.S. Cheema, counsel for the CBI, said: “It cannot be ruled out that the minister (Ramachandran) himself may be involved (in the transfer-for-cash scandal).”

Today, after he was taken back into the ministry without so much as a murmur, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee simply said: “Status quo has been restored.”

That authoritative statement is expected to settle all questions about his resignation and quick return — not to finance but textiles.

It doesn’t.

Ramachandran’s comeback is less spectacular than Mamata Banerjee’s but more intriguing. The Trinamul Congress leader was expected to get in the last time in July but was thwarted in the final hour — though the Prime Minister apparently wanted her back — as a section of the BJP insisted her estranged party colleague Sudip Bandopadhyay should also be taken in with her. Mamata did not agree and neither got a look-in.

This time she has, and it would seem Vajpayee, too, has got his unbridled way because there is no Bandopadhyay condition tagged on to defeat her return again. Vajpayee wins, one section in the BJP would have lost or given a walkover; Mamata wins, Bandopadhyay loses: the books are balanced.

In Ramachandran’s return, there is only the winner: he himself. Politically, he and his party, the MDMK (four MPs), are much too lightweight to muster the sort of influence that would see him back in the ministry so shortly after a scandal.

Even a senior leader like George Fernandes had to spend a much longer spell out of the cabinet after the Tehelka scandal and returned after at least a face-saving probe. Bangaru Laxman had to quit as BJP chief and was never rehabilitated.

The circumstances in Ramachandran’s case were clearer than in most corruption scandals. Perumalswamy — a political nominee and not a bureaucrat — was arrested taking a bribe of Rs 4 lakh from Indian Revenue Service officer Anurag Vardhan to arrange a transfer to Mumbai.

After Perumalswamy’s arrest, CBI director P.C. Sharma met deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani. Ramachandran’s resignation followed.

The CBI did not treat the case as an isolated incident of corruption in the finance ministry. During trial proceedings, the CBI gave the impression that revenue officers were getting postings of their choice by bribing Perumalswamy and another accused — a Chennai-based chartered accountant — A. Krishnamurthy.

“Investigation has revealed some kind of a racket operating in the matter of transfer of income-tax officials,” its lawyer had told special judge V.K. Jain on June 2.

Contrary to the initial impression, the CBI has not enlarged the ambit of its investigation to include other revenue officers who, it had claimed, were as guilty as Vardhan.

What it has done, instead, is leave several unanswered questions.

* If the CBI had evidence against Ramachandran, a possibility the lawyer mentioned in court, where did it disappear'

* Is it possible for a personal assistant to accept cash for a transfer without the knowledge of the minister' In any case, aren’t ministers responsible for the acts of their handpicked office staff'

* The CBI questioned even the chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes. Why didn’t it question Ramachandran'

After being reinducted, the 59-year-old Ramachandran said: “I hope the CBI will bring out the truth quickly.”

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