Lunch diplomacy fails to break parliament logjam (Roundup)

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS
Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NEW DELHI - The government and a united opposition Tuesday failed to end their 13-day standoff that has crippled parliament over the latter’s demand for a parliamentary probe into the 2G spectrum scam and the government’s refusal to order one.

Speaker Meira Kumar’s desperate efforts to buy peace between the two sides over a sumptuous lunch could not achieve its objective.

The government rejected the opposition’s demand as “unacceptable”. A belligerent opposition made it clear that it would not allow the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha to function till a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) was formed to probe the controversial allocation spectrum in 2008 by the now disgraced and communications minister A. Raja.

In a replay of what has been happening since parliament’s winter session began Nov 9, protests and slogan shouting began as soon as the two houses met Tuesday morning.

This was the 13th day of parliamentary paralysis. The chairs were again forced to adjourn the houses minutes after they met. In the first 13 days of the winter session, the Lok Sabha has met for less than six hours.

Amid no signs of truce between the government and opposition, Meira Kumar had called the Tuesday meeting hoping parliament would be allowed to function normally from Wednesday. But that was not to be.

At a nearly two-and-a-half hour meeting, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee ruled out a JPC probe.

Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj told reporters later that all opposition parties were on the same page in demanding a parliamentary probe into the alleged irregularities in the allotment of the second generation spectrum that is believed to have cost huge financial losses to the government.

“All the opposition parties demand a JPC and if the government can’t give JPC, the parliament would not be able to function. We have told this thing to the speaker also,” Sushma Swaraj said.

The government has proposed attaching a multi-disciplinary probe team with the public accounts committee (PAC) to go into the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the 2G spectrum allocation. The probe the government offered can be monitored by the Supreme Court.

But the opposition was not satisfied.

Sushma Swaraj said: “The right of parliament cannot be compromised with.” She also questioned: “How can the government make a proposal on behalf of the Supreme Court?”

Communist Party of India’s Gurudas Dasgupta said the government was “unnecessarily dragging” the issue.

“The government is squarely responsible for the (stalemate)… It is bewildering why the government is so adamant. The government feels many more skeletons may come out of the cupboard,” he said, describing the scandal as “the biggest” in independent India.

“It is a massive loot of poor man’s money and nothing less than a JPC is acceptable,” he added.

Informed sources in know of what transpired at the meeting told IANS that Mukherjee, who is also leader of the house, tried his best to convince the opposition to give up its demand.

“He was in combative mode. He spoke endlessly. Went on and on with history, but failed to convince the opposition,” said the source.

Mukherjee said the government was “determined” and no JPC would be set up, which angered the opposition.

The meeting at the committee room of Parliament Library complex began at 1.30 p.m. and lasted about two hours. It was attended by leaders of all parties in the house.

Meira Kumar suggested that at least the question hour should be allowed.

This was turned down by the opposition.

The Congress allies have backed the government’s stance.

The government had earlier held two rounds of talks with opposition leaders to end the stalemate but without success.

To put more pressure on the government, some 80 MPs of Left and the non-BJP opposition parties took a protest march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet President Pratibha Patil.

They urged the president to intervene and ask the government to accept their JPC demand.

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