New Delhi: The political woes of the ruling Congress party were compounded as two of its chief ministers came under the corruption scanner.
In Parliament, the opposition sought the resignation of Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit over her alleged role in irregularities related to Commonwealth Games (CWG) projects.
Oommen Chandy, chief minister of Kerala, where the government led by the party has just a wafer-thin majority, is in trouble in the wake of a vigilance court ordering a probe into his role in a 1992 palmolein oil import case.
Both controversies come amid the series of corruption scandals that has haunted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s second term in office, eroding the government’s credibility and the investment climate.
The party ruled out the resignation of the chief ministers.
“There is no need for the resignation of Dikshit. The report” by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) “has nowhere indicted the chief minister. It does not have any objectionable references to chief minister Sheila Dikshit,” Congress spokesperson Sanjay Nirupam told reporters outside Parliament.
Delhi transport minister Arvinder Singh Lovely said: “We have gone through the CAG report; neither Dikshit nor any political functionary has been indicted by CAG.” There was “unnecessary politicization of the CAG report” by the opposition, he said.
Demanding Dikshit’s resignation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party, disrupted the proceedings of both houses of Parliament, forcing an early adjournment. The functioning of Parliament had returned briefly to normalcy on Thursday after three days of repeated adjournments.
“A CAG report is not final. A process has to be followed once CAG gives its report and that is what we want to do in this case also,” said Kapil Sibal, Union minister for human resource development. “If the process was not followed in 2G scam, it does not set a precedent, does not mean we don’t follow the process in others,” Sibal said, referring to the resignation of A. Raja as telecom minister after CAG’s 2G report.
Both Sibal and law minister Salman Khursheed said the constitution had to be respected. “If there is no constitutional process, we will have mobocracy,” he said.
In an attempt to buy peace, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has agreed to a debate on the matter on Tuesday. The discussion will be on the opposition’s notice against sports and youth affairs minister Ajay Maken, who had in his suo moto statement tried to implicate the previous BJP-led government in the CWG episode.
The BJP’s privilege notice against Maken said he misled Parliament with his statement on Suresh Kalmadi’s appointment as CWG Organizing Committee chairman and wanted an immediate discussion on the issue. Maken had said that Kalmadi was made the chairman by the Indian Olympic Association as per the host city contract approved during the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime and there was no scope for any change.
The fresh political controversies may worsen the situation for the government as it has been struggling to pass several crucial items of legislation, including reform Bills.
“We want Parliament to run. It shouldn’t be disrupted because crucial and historical Bills are to be tabled on the floor of the House,” Sibal said. The government has listed more than 60 Bills for the session that runs for more than a month.
Mumbai-based political analyst Jai Mrug said the legislative process could still be pushed forward.
“Certainly, the controversies weaken the government’s credibility, but not its will. As far as this government is concerned, it can use its numbers and the articulation behind the legislation to its advantage,” Mrug said.
A poll by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies showed that Singh’s popularity has dropped drastically from 2009, when his party returned to power. Singh and his government have also been criticized for failing to tackle high inflation.
But a survey published in The Hindu newspaper said Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has emerged as the most popular political leader and the preferred choice as the next prime minister. Gandhi has recently been appointed as one of the four-member committee to look into party affairs in the absence of his mother and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, indicating that he may replace Singh sooner or later.
In Kerala, Congress and its allies in the United Democratic Front ruled out the resignation of Chandy, saying the chief minister had not been charged with any offence. Former chief minister and leader of the opposition V.S. Achuthanandan demanded that he quit.
The court ordered a probe to ascertain whether Chandy had any role in the deal as then finance minister in the government led by the late K. Karunakaran, rejecting a report filed by investigators in April last year.
Mint’s Sangeeta Singh and PTI contributed to this story.