Prime Minister Manmohan Singh direly needed a fresh coat of Teflon amid a plethora of scams haunting his government. On Monday, he sought to acquire one with some political finesse and an air of conviction so typical of him.
His offer to appear before Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee probing the CAG report on the 2G scam was meant to take the sting out of the Opposition’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary committee (JPC). The move showed the PM as being accountable to Parliament — but not on terms set by the BJP and Left.
Singh dismissed the BJP propaganda that he opposed a JPC because he wasn’t amenable to examination by a parliamentary panel. “I’ve nothing to hide… and as a proof…I intend to write to the PAC chairman (BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi) that I shall be happy to appear before the committee if it chooses to ask me to do so.”
It was evident from first reactions that the PM’s unilateral gesture didn’t cut ice with the BJP. The principal Opposition’s frontline leader Arun Jaitley contrasted the PAC’s limited mandate of para-wise comments on the CAG report with the JPC’s vast scope and powers. “There are questions even on the way the UPA-2 government was formed. Who chose the individual who came to hold the Telecom portfolio? Did industrialists and lobbyists play a role, ” he asked.
The UPA-Opposition hiatus on the issue might prolong the face-off till Parliament’s Budget Session. But optics seemed to favour the Congress with television channels “breaking news” of CBI summoning Raja and his lobbyist friend Niira Radia even as the PM spoke at the AICC plenary. He said no guilty person would be spared — whether he’s a political leader or a government official, whichever party he may belong to and howsoever powerful he may be.
One can’t really grudge the Opposition marching to its own drumbeats. The battle is perceptional. The Congress’s only hope is in keeping its flock together while matching words with action.
A quick follow-up on Sonia Gandhi’s six-point action plan to battle corruption could help capture popular imagination. The PM has promised action on it. But much depends on early initiatives by CMs of Congress-ruled states to give up discretionary powers to allot land and ensure transparency in contracts/procurements.
“The trick is in setting the agenda for fighting corruption. We’d do it our own way, not on terms dictated by the Opposition,” said a Congress leader. He agreed that Sonia’s call for time-bound closure of corruption cases must start with ongoing probes into the CWG-Telecom scandals.
That’ll build pressure on the BJP to explain the scam-tainted Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa’s continuation in office. The Opposition unity will crack once terrorist cases involving RSS activists are fast-tracked and convictions secured, averred a government source.
He said the explaining then would have to be done by the BJP that has resorted to relative silence on the Sangh fountainhead’s retributive terror.
A realistic scenario this or a case merely of wishes being horses and beggars riding? The Congress is banking on Singh’s urban middle-class constituency to rise in his defence — just as it did in the 2009 polls when the BJP ridiculed him as a weak Premier.