From Raja’s scalp to JPC demand - UPA-opposition battle hots up

Monday, November 15, 2010

NEW DELHI - If the government was hoping to quieten the opposition with the ouster of A. Raja as telecommunications and IT minister, it was not to be. The opposition insisted on a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the recent scandals, including the 2G spectrum allocation.

The opposition - both the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Left parties - had last week forcefully said ‘no parliament functioning till Raja’s resignation’. But Monday, they changed it to a strong demand for a JPC probe, crippling funtioning of parliament.

Work in both houses of parliament, which met after a three-day break, remained disrupted for the third consecutive working day Monday as the opposition kicked up a ruckus over its demand for a JPC probe.

Now, political circles are keenly awaiting the outcome of the all-party luncheon meeting being hosted Tuesday by Finance Minister and Leader of the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee to find a way out of the impasse.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in its report on the 2G spectrum allotment, had said that Raja, who belongs to the DMK, had “adopted unfair and flexibles in the spectrum allotment to benefit a few”. The report is yet to be tabled in parliament.

Meanwhile, both the ruling United Progressive Alliance UPA and the opposition have hardened their stands.

Mukherjee ruled out the demand for a JPC, terming it “absolutely unacceptable”. “How many JPC probes did the National Democratic Alliance government agree to in its six-year rule?” he posed a counter question to reporters.

“Ministers come and go but the prime minister does not make a statement on such issues. Did (former prime minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee make a statement when (defence minister) George Fernandes resigned?” he asked in response to questions whether the prime minister would make a statement in the house.

“Why should the prime minister make a statement in parliament? It is the privilege of the minister to make a statement on the floor of the house. If Raja wants to make a statement, he can do so,” Mukherjee said.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram also dismissed the demand for a JPC as “meaningless”.

“The demand for JPC is completely meaningless. Let BJP allow the house to run,” he told reporters.

BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told IANS that it was not her party which was stalling the house. “It is for the government to respond and see the house running,” she said.

“The nature and magnitude of the recent scams are such that it calls for a detailed JPC inquiry,” she said.

Chidambaram said the findings of the CAG on the 2G spectrum allotment would be referred to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, which comprises members of all political parties.

“Already, a sub-committee headed by the former comptroller and auditor general is going into the telecom deals. Then the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) are also investigating the matter. We have a permanent JPC called the Public Accounts Committee, then where is the need for another probe?” he said to reporters outside parliament.

“We are destroying all the institutions,” Mukherjee said. “How will the system function? They (BJP) are also running governments in different parts of the country. This is totally a sad affair,” he added.

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury said a higher probe other than the CAG evaluation was needed into the 2G spectrum allotment.

Political circles relate the current UPA-NDA standoff to the emerging political situation, rather than the scandals projected by the opposition.

According to sources, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has directed the BJP to take a tough stand against the UPA after the centre and several state governments registered cases against RSS activists in terror attacks like the Ajmer blast case and the Malegaon blast case.

The Left, on its part, is angry with the UPA as it is under attack from the Trinamool Congress, a partner of the UPA, in West Bengal where the Left has been ruling for the past 33 years.

For its part, the Congress is also not ruling out a counter-offensive on corruption issues.

“Let the BJP start a probe against the land-grabber Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and other ministers. Have they forgotten Bangaru Lakshman (then BJP president who figured in the Tehelka expose)?,” Congress spokesman Mohan Prakash said to IANS.

The Karnataka chief minister has denied any wrong doing in allotting prime land in and around Bangalore to his two sons B.Y. Vijeyendra and B.Y. Raghavendra. Yeddyurappa Monday said he would set up an inquiry commission headed by a former Supreme Court judge to probe land deals across the state, especially in and around Bangalore, over the past 10 years.

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