Speaker’s lunch diplomacy fails to end parliament logjam

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NEW DELHI - Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar’s lunch diplomacy to end the stalemate in parliament over demands for a parliamentary probe into the 2G spectrum scam failed Tuesday with the government and opposition refusing to budge from their stated positions.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, at a nearly two-and-a-half hour lunch meeting hosted by Meira Kumar, rejected the opposition’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum scam.

Leader of Opposition 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 2G spectrum in 2008 that is believed to have cost huge financial losses to the national exchequer.

She also rejected the government’s offer of letting the Supreme Court monitor a probe into the scam.

“The right of parliament cannot be compromised with,” the BJP leader said and questioned: “How can the government make a proposal on behalf of the Supreme Court?”

Communist Party of India’s Gurudas Dasgupta told reporters after the meeting that the government was “unnecessarily dragging” the issue.

“The government is squarely responsible for the (stalemate in parliament)… They are politicising the issue by not explaining why the JPC should not be done,” Dasgupta said.

Sources in know of what transpired at the meeting told IANS that Mukherjee, who is also the leader of the house, tried hard to convince a united opposition to give up its demand over setting up a JPC.

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

The finance minister said the government was “determined” and no JPC would be set up, which angered the opposition and “the logjam continues”, said the source.

The meeting at the committee room of the Parliament Library complex began at 1.30 p.m. and lasted till about 3.30 p.m. The discussion was attended by leaders of all parties in the house.

On the lunch menu was chicken biryani, vegetable pulao, fish curry, mixed vegetables, dal tadka and kheer for dessert.

Hoping to reach some sort of consensus, Meira Kumar tried to bring the government and the opposition on the same page on the issue that has seen parliament’s adjournments for 13 successive days.

Allies of the ruling Congress have backed the government’s stance that there was no need for a JPC as the Public Accounts Committee, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi, was already looking into the Comptroller and Auditor General report on the 2G spectrum allocation.

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

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