New Delhi: After holding out for just a day, the government conceded to the opposition’s demand for a debate on inflation, followed by a vote.
A loss in the vote will embarrass the government, but not threaten its survival, although it will definitely serve as a setback to the government’s plans to push several pieces of legislation through Parliament.
The concession by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) comes at a time when the principal opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has decided to directly target Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, especially for his alleged failures of oversight in the conduct of the controversial Commonwealth Games (CWG) and allocation of second-generation spectrum.
Seeking consensus: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Photo PTI
Some analysts say that the latest turn of events will ensure that the government stays in a firefighting mode, instead of focusing on much-needed policy changes that can address growing economic and social challenges.
The UPA has 270 lawmakers in the Lok Sabha and the BJP and its allies have 170, and others have the remaining 102. However, the Congress has to ensure the backing of its key allies such as the Trinamool Congress and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, which are unhappy with the ruling party on various issues. They have 19 and 18 members, respectively, in the Lower House and while it is unlikely they will go against the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party, which has thus far supported several legislations of the UPA in Parliament, could change its stance, given the coming assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, the party’s home state where the Congress is attempting to revive its fortunes.
“Despite repeated discussions on price rise in the House, the burden of price rise on the common man is continuing. Expressing deep concern over price rise, this House calls upon the government to take immediate effective steps to check inflation that will give relief to the common man,” says the resolution, which will be debated in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the BJP, in its weekly meeting on Tuesday, decided to focus its attack on the Prime Minister for his “failures”. Party members have been directed to be present in both Houses during the five-week-long monsoon session that began on Monday.
BJP leaders also discussed the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on the financial irregularities in CWG; CAG’s audit, according to a report by NDTV 24x7, says that Singh knew of the developments and yet failed to take action.
Interestingly, in a suo moto statement read out amid the uproar in the Lok Sabha, sports and youth affairs minister Ajay Maken blamed the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, in whose tenure India won the right to host the Games. According to Maken, due procedure was not followed, which prevented the Union government from exercising oversight and thereby prevent any misconduct. The BJP rejected the charge.
In another development that could potentially draw Singh further into the ongoing political controversy, Mint has reviewed a copy of a letter in possession of CAG that says Suresh Kalmadi, former chairman of the organizing committee (OC) of CWG who has been in custody since April, had succeeded in obtaining a favourable decision from the Prime Minister’s Office on 5 November 2007 to block the sports ministry’s attempt to reduce his powers.
Kalmadi had, on 31 October 2007, written to T.K.A. Nair, the then principal secretary to the Prime Minister, objecting to a proposal from the sports ministry to amend the memorandum of the association of OC to increase the powers of the executive board and reduce the powers of the chairman (Kalmadi).
Kalmadi wanted the status quo to be maintained and it was. “Any attempt to change the basic constitution of the OC at this juncture...will become counterproductive and send wrong signals at home and internationally,” he wrote.
A panel appointed last year by the Prime Minister and headed by former comptroller, V.K. Shunglu, has attributed the irregularities to Kalmadi and observed that “all key decisions were taken by handful of powerful loyalists of the chairman”.
In a separate development, the BJP also attacked the ruling party for an alleged “land grab” in Haryana. The Punjab and Haryana high court had on Monday pulled up the Haryana government for flouting laws to grant land, including eight acres for the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT), among whose trustees is Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
“I want to ask Congress leaders, they want B.S. Yeddyurappa’s head for one acre of land and in this case a huge area of land is involved with a trust managed by the Gandhi family. What was the need to go soft on this during acquisition? Haryana government should explain this and cancel the allotment,” BJP’s spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said. Yeddyurappa, the former chief minister of Karnataka and BJP’s poster boy in south India, was indicted by an antigraft watchdog’s report in an illegal mining case that may have caused the state exchequer to lose Rs 1,800 crore over 14 months.
Balveer Arora, former head of the political science department at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “On the issue of corruption, the government is being pushed on the back foot on a number of occasions. It is clear that its energy has been diverted to responding to these charges. The Prime Minister’s statement that the opposition has more skeletons in their cupboard implies that the government also has them, which means all the attention is on deciding who has more skeletons rather than focusing on concrete governance issues.”
Interestingly, on Tuesday, the Haryana government said that most of the petitions against the land acquisition have been withdrawn and that it would set up a high-powered committee to look into the (remaining) claims. Haryana’s additional advocate general Narinder Hooda said that out of 65 petitions filed, 55 have been withdrawn, with the claimants agreeing to put their grievances before a high-powered committee headed by principal secretary, town and country planning.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by RGCT chief executive officer Y.S.P. Thorat clarified that the trust corresponded directly with the gram panchayat (village council) and was leased gram sabha (village administration) land by the gram panchayat for 33 years through due process and without any concessions, to establish an eye hospital in Haryana. “The Trust’s lease with the gram panchayat stipulates that the land shall be used only for the purposes of an eye hospital; that there shall be no further sub-lease or transfer; that the eye hospital shall run on a no profit-no loss basis. The land continues to be owned by the gram panchayat,” the statement said.
The Congress said the matter will be settled according to the high court’s verdict.
PTI contributed to this story@