New Delhi: The face-off between the government and the opposition extended to another front on Friday with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) objecting to the appointment of a new Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chief.
The BJP said the government should have waited for the passage of the Lokpal Bill, which has a provision for a collegium to name the agency director, rather than decide on the appointment by itself.
The development comes as the government tries to buy peace for the smooth functioning of Parliament; it may even concede the opposition’s demand for a debate and vote on the issue of foreign direct investment (FDI) in supermarkets, according to leaders of the ruling Congress party.
Leaders of the opposition in both the houses of Parliament, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh objecting to the appointment on Thursday of Ranjit Sinha as the new CBI director.
The BJP leaders argued that the order came barely hours before a select panel report on the Lokpal Bill was tabled in Parliament. The report recommended that CBI directors be appointed by a collegium comprising, among others, the leader of the opposition and the Chief Justice of India.
The government said it went by existing rules and laws for the appointment. “The government has to go by the laws as it exists. The government’s decisions cannot be stopped because one legislation is pending. There is no logic in their demand,” telecom minister Kapil Sibal said.
Sinha, presently director general of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, a central paramilitary force, will take charge after incumbent CBI director Amar Pratap Singh retires on 30 November. Sinha is a 1974 batch Indian Police Services officer and belongs to the Bihar cadre.
Mumbai-based political analyst Jai Mrug said it was an “inadvertent” decision but “the opposition has found an opportunity to reinforce its stand that the way government has not consulted them or others in the issue of FDI (in retail) and that the government is taking its decisions alone.”
The BJP has been accusing the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of misusing the CBI against its own allies and opposition parties with false cases.
The federal agency is presently probing high-profile cases including alleged improprieties in the allocations of 2G spectrum and coal mines.
The BJP had previously opposed the appointment of P.J. Thomas, former secretary in the telecom ministry, as the Central Vigilance Commissioner because of his alleged involvement in a palmolein oil import scam in Kerala. His appointment was finally quashed by the Supreme Court.
Leaders of both the ruling Congress party and the BJP are engaged in a war of words over a former auditor’s statement that he had questioned the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) figure of Rs.1.76 trillion as the notional loss from alleged irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum.
R.P. Singh, who was the director general of audit with the CAG, also said that Public Advisory Committee chairman and senior BJP leader M.M. Joshi had spoken to officials in the national audit body before the controversial report was released. Mint on 6 September 2011, citing internal documents, reported there were differences in the audit body over the estimate of loss and that Singh did not want the notional loss to be quantified.
Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said the issues raised by Singh were “germane” and Joshi should offer a clarification. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, reacting to questions from the media in Parliament House, too, suggested that the BJP had been exposed with the Singh’s disclosure. Denying the charges, Joshi said this was an attempt to malign the CAG.
The government, meanwhile, is holding backroom discussions with members of the UPA and friendly parties for ensuring a majority if the opposition calls for a vote on the issue of FDI in multi-brand retail.
Two senior Congress leaders, including a minister, all declining to be identified, said the government may agree for a debate and vote on the issue.
The government is convening an all-party meeting on Monday to discuss the matter. Finance minister P. Chidambaram met both Jailtey and Swaraj on Friday to seek their support in clearing pending legislations.
The government has listed 25 Bills for passage in the ongoing winter session of Parliament. Another senior minister is likely to visit ally Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M. Karunanidhi to discuss the FDI issue. The DMK is opposed to the policy.