PM silent as court asks for affidavit, rivals say clear your name (Evening Lead)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NEW DELHI - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh found himself in an unparalleled crisis Thursday with the Supreme Court asking for an affidavit detailing his response on the plea to prosecute A. Raja for the 2G spectrum scam and the opposition saying his silence on the issue implied consent.

And once again parliament was disrupted as the opposition demanded a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) on the issue of A. Raja, who resigned Sunday as communications and IT minister, and the 2G spectrum allotment issue that is estimated to have cost the exchequer Rs.176,000 crore (Rs.1.76 trillion/approx $39 billion).

Realising the gravity of the deepening crisis, the Congress leadership met at the prime minister’s residence with party president Sonia Gandhi, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal, who is handling the telecom ministry and is a legal expert, amongst others in attendance.

While the Congress was meeting to firm up its stance, the Supreme Court asked Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam to file an affidavit by Saturday on the government’s response to a petition by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy seeking sanction to prosecute Raja.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court had taken exception to the 11-month “silence” of the prime minister on Swamy’s public interest litigation. The court direction came after the solicitor general told the court that the government has responded in action to Swamy’s application.

“Every letter of Swamy has been dealt with,” the solicitor general told the court.

The solicitor general has either been misled by the PM’s office or misinformed the court, Swamy told reporters.

I am suggesting that solicitor general is either embroidering or stretching the truth. He is taking even routine acknowledgment as reply.

He then said the government should come clean that it could not take action against Raja due to “pressure”.

He (prime minister) is a nice man, but obviously a weak man, said Swamy.

The sentiment about the prime minister, known for his personal probity, was echoed by the opposition.

“Now even the Supreme Court has asked the prime minister to file an affidavit on why it was silent on the 2G scam. In the history of independent India it has never happened that the Supreme Court has had to question the prime minister,” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Prakash Javadekar told reporters outside parliament.

Quick to seize the opportunity, he added: “Raja said he had sought the prime minister’s permission for everything he did. It makes him (prime minister) equally responsible, he must come out with a clarification.”

Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) MP Brinda Karat agreed and said: “It is embarrassing that for the first time in the history of India, the Supreme Court has had to take the name of the prime minister and ask why he was silent.”

Her colleague in the Rajya Sabha Sitaram Yechury also had a word of advice for the prime minister when they walked out of the house together.

I told him that you should clear your name Yechury said, adding that he too had got no response to his letters asking for action against Raja.

But the legislature cannot be ignored, the prime minister will have to respond.’

The AIADMK alleged that the prime minister was quiet because people at high levels were involved. The AIADMK is the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu where Raja’s party DMK leads the government. The DMK is also part of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA).

“Perhaps that is why the prime minister is silent and he has to face the embarrassment of getting a censure from the Supreme Court,” AIADMK leader V. Maitreyan told reporters.

“We demand a JPC (joint parliamentary committee) on this and we want the prime minister to come clean on this. Till the government agrees to a JPC, (there will be) no parliament,” he added.

According to informed sources in the Congress party, the prime minister may make a statement in parliament Friday on the issue.

will not be displayed