Ahead of PM’s media interaction, BJP ups the ante (Intro Roundup)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

KOLKATA/NEW DELHI - Ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s much awaited media interaction Wednesday morning, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tuesday upped its ante with L.K. Advani once again calling him a “weak prime minister” and criticising him for his inability to counter corruption charges against the Congress-led central government.

His party colleague Rajnath Singh also asked UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to “speak up” on the issues of corruption and black money.

The main opposition party said that the prime minister needed to break the silence on the government’s stand on all the corruption scandals plaguing it, as also on the issues of inflation and accumulation of black money that were of great concern to the nation.

Manmohan Singh will meet TV editors at his official 7 Race Course Road residence Wednesday morning, ahead of the budget session of parliament beginning next week, with public confidence in his government at an all-time low and the opposition cornering it on corruption and inflation that the government has been slow to tackle.

Addressing a public rally in Kolkata, Advani said: “When I had said during the 2009 Lok Sabha election campaign that I have seen all the prime ministers since Jawaharlal Nehru but I feel pity for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh because I have never seen such a weak prime minister, many people said that I should not say this because many people feel bad about it.”

Earlier, during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections campaign, Advani as also some other BJP leaders had targeted Manmohan Singh and repeatedly called him the weakest prime minister India has had.

But the strategy backfired as the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) lost to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) spearheaded by the Congress, which regained power with a handsome majority.

“At that time (2009), I had said that being a good person is fine. But if a good person is weak and he becomes prime minister then he can never stand up against corruption charges and scams. In the last few months, my words have been proved true. The Supreme Court has several times scolded the government,” said Advani.

Speaking later, former party president Rajnath Singh asked: “Why is the main leader of Congress, Sonia Gandhi, on whose whims the government runs, maintaining an unprecedented silence on the issue of black money? I feel surprised. She speaks up on every issue but why is she not speaking up on the issue of black money?”

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had said $462 billion to $1.4 trillion in black money is estimated to have been stashed abroad by Indians and all steps were being taken to bring it back. But the names of the perpetrators cannot be revealed yet, he said.

“Common people of this country want to hear from you, Soniaji, what is your stand on the issue of black money. First of all, you have to clarify your stand, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will clarify his stand on the issue,” said Singh.

In the same breath, Rajnath Singh also mocked the external affairs minister for making a wrong speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

“It seems that Congress leaders have lost their mental balance. Foreign Minister of India S.M. Krishna made a wrong speech at an international forum and read out the speech which was meant to be read out by the minister of Portugal. He has made a mockery of India,” he said, as he and other BJP leaders launched a broadside against the omissions and commissions of the government and the ruling coalition.

Advani also demanded another joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe in both Commonwealth Games and Adarsh Society scams.

“I want to say in this public rally that when opposition demands JPC probe, that means that there should be JPC probe in all the corruption cases in recent times. Without this, the opposition will not be satisfied,” he asserted.

The BJP leader in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, expressed concern over media reports that one lakh phones were tapped every year.

There is an apprehension this is a misuse of power that is taking place and indiscriminate bugging is going on,” Jaitely said in Kolkata.

“It is extremely important that the government clarify how many of these phones are really being bugged across the country and authoritatively clarify that phones are being tapped only on those considerations with are permitted by law and not otherwise,” he demanded.

In New Delhi, BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said the prime minister should break his silence on the 2G and S-band spectrum controversies as well as on inflation and black money when he addresses the media on Wednesday.

“We certainly expect him to talk on the three issues (2G, S-band and inflation)…,” Sitharaman said. She added that he should also give his views on black money that was playing havoc with the economy.

“Does the government have any intention to tackle it?” she asked.

Sitharaman said the issue of India’s space agency being involved in the S-band spectrum controversy was important as it related to the country’s security. “Why was there no proper process (in allocation)? That is something which we want the PM to address,” she said.

The Congress predictably hit back, likening Advani to an “old gramophone record” for repeating “baseless charges” against Manmohan Singh.

“Advani is like an old gramaphone record. He is stuck on the same old personal charges against Manmohan Singh. All those allegations were rejected by the people of India in the last Lok Sabha polls and later,” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari told reporters.

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