PM offers to appear before PAC, but gridlock continues (Roundup)

Monday, December 20, 2010

NEW DELHI - Caught in a credibility crisis with a series of corruption scandals, India’s ruling Congress Monday fought back with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offering to appear before parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the 2G spectrum scam and president Sonia Gandhi vowing to tackle the taint “head-on”.

Hoping to re-energise party workers and boost morale after the recent electoral debacle in Bihar and the many corruption scams — the 2008 2G spectrum allocation, preparations of the Commonwealth Games, the Adarsh housing society - Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi made combating corruption the leitmotif of their speeches at the three-day party plenary.

Acknowledging the gridlock over the opposition’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the mobile telephony scam that is estimated to have caused huge losses to the national exchequer, the prime minister said in an unusually forthright speech that he had nothing to hide and was “happy” to break precedence by appearing before the PAC.

Speaking in detail for the first time on the raging controversy that paralysed parliament’s winter session, he 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 plenary session that ended Monday.

“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 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 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 CWG organisation and 2G spectrum allocation scandals.

“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,” he said at the plenary, attended by 15,000 delegates.

The commitment to eradicate corruption was echoed by Gandhi too.

“We will take corruption head-on and demonstrate through our action and not through words alone that we mean what we say,” said Gandhi, who Sunday forwarded a five-point plan to fight corruption.

Minister of State for Home M. Ramachandran told IANS after the meeting ended: “The party rank and file has got direction and enthusiasm. It will be reflected in the assembly polls in Kerala, West Bengal and elsewhere.”

The plenary — which passed four resolutions, on economy, foreign policy, politics and 125 years of the Congress — also saw a determined effort by both the prime minister and the party president to project an enduring partnership and declare their confidence in each other’s leadership.

If Manmohan Singh endorsed Gandhi’s brand of clean politics, she backed him as the “embodiment of sobriety, dignity and integrity”.

Party workers appeared enthused but the political waters stayed troubled.

Indicating that the impasse might continue through the budget session of parliament, the BJP and the Left both reiterated the demand for a JPC.

Underlining that only a JPC could get to the truth, BJP leader Arun Jaitley 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.

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