PM ‘happy’ to appear before PAC, opposition unimpressed (Afternoon Lead)

Monday, December 20, 2010

NEW DELHI - Taking the opposition head-on, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday that he had nothing to hide and was “happy” to break precedence by appearing before parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in connection with the 2G spectrum allocation scandal.

Speaking in detail for the first time on the raging controversy that paralysed parliament’s winter session as the opposition persisted with its demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the 2008 spectrum allocation, Manmohan Singh asserted that the prime minister, like Caesar’s wife, should be above suspicion.

“I sincerely believe that like Caesar’s wife, the prime minister should be above suspicion and it is for this reason that I am prepared to appear before the PAC even though there is no precedent to that effect,” Manmohan Singh said at the Congress plenary session in Delhi’s Burari locality.

“I wish to state categorically that I have nothing to hide from the public at large, and as a proof of my bonafides I intend to write to the chairman of the PAC that I shall be happy to appear before the PAC if it chooses to ask me to do so,” he asserted.

He pointed out that the PAC, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Murli Manohar Joshi and looking into the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on 2G spectrum, was itself a JPC.

In a speech that covered a gamut of subjects, including inflation and Pakistan, he said the BJP had been falsely propagating that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was against a JPC probe because “we do not want the prime minister to be questioned by a parliamentary committee, thereby implying I have something to hide”.

Addressing the opposition, the prime minister also said the government was conducting a “thorough probe” into the Commonwealth Games (CWG) organisation and 2G spectrum allocation scandals and no person found guilty would be spared.

“These inquiries will be pursued vigorously. And it is my promise that no guilty person will be spared, whether he is a political leader or a government official, whichever party he may belong to and howsoever powerful he may be.”

The prime minister said his government had always strived to eradicate corruption and would continue to do so. “Whether at the centre or in states, we have asked our ministers and chief ministers to step down merely on the basis of the suspicion because we practise and believe in principled politics.”

Taking a dig at the BJP, Manmohan Singh said: “We are not like some opposition parties which insist on retaining their tainted chief ministers despite scandal after scandal.”

The prime minister’s speech, unusually aggressive in tone, however, left the opposition unimpressed.

Indicating that the impasse would continue despite his intervention, the BJP and the Left both reiterated the demand for a JPC.

“He (PM) knows PAC’s role will be limited to a CAG report. What about other issues?,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.

Added party leader Arun Jaitley: “When the PM says he has nothing to hide, we want to say there are lots of things still hidden.”

Underlining that only a JPC can get to the truth, he said: “If he is so confident that he and the Congress have done no wrong, then why is he getting into this JPC-PAC debate?”

Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D. Raja too said the opposition would pursue its demand for a JPC probe.

“The PM has again ruled out … JPC. I don’t understand why. Why is he making it such a contentious issue?” Raja said.

In his speech at the three-day plenary that began Saturday, the prime minister also announced that inflation would be curbed early next year to settle at 5.5 percent.

Touching on Pakistan, he said India wished it well but Islamabad must curb terror activities.

“We want friendly relations with Pakistan but this can happen only when our neighbour will see to it that there are no terrorist activities on its soil against India,” Manmohan Singh said.

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