New Delhi: With the Opposition targeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his alleged inaction over corruption accusations, the ruling Congress party and the government may take an aggressive tack to counter the allegations, as party leaders came out strongly in his defence.
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi maintained that the Supreme Court’s remarks against Singh over the delay in sanctioning former telecom minister A. Raja’s prosecution in the second-generation (2G) mobile spectrum allocation scam was not an embarrassment.
Kapil Sibal, who took charge of telecom after Raja resigned on 14 November, said there was no wrongdoing on the part of the government.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by the Congress, has taken “corrective steps” to restore credibility. He was speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on Friday.
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The Opposition, which has stalled Parliament since 9 November, when the winter session began, disrupted proceedings on Friday also, demanding a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the accusations against the UPA government, including the 2G scam, corruption in preparations for the Commonwealth Games and irregularities in the allotment of flats at the Adarsh Housing Cooperative Society in Mumbai, meant for victims of the 1999 Kargil conflict.
A JPC is a multi-partisan group of lawmakers set up to look into issues that Parliament wants to investigate.
Gandhi, who broke his silence over the issue on Friday, told reporters outside Parliament: “I don’t think he is in an embarrassing position at all.”
Singh was asked by the apex court to explain his alleged inaction and silence over a complaint against Raja by Saturday.
Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy wrote to Singh on 29 November 2008, asking for permission to prosecute Raja, but received a response only 16 months later.
In an interview to NDTV news channel, Sibal defended Singh, saying that he was not bound to reply to Swamy. Sibal also said the Opposition’s demand for a JPC was “political”.
“In fact, I do believe that the Prime Minister is a man of integrity,” he said. “I don’t think that anybody in this country believes that he was trying to circumvent the law.”
Attacking Swamy, who has approached the Supreme Court seeking sanction for the prosecution of Raja, Sibal said this shoudn’t be based solely on media reports.
“If an individual, who believed himself to be an investigating agency, does not take recourse to law and expects on the basis of newspaper reports for the Prime Minister to respond and sanction, it will be a sad day for the country,” he said.
According to two Congress leaders, the ruling party is reconsidering its earlier willingness for a JPC into the 2G scam after a group of senior leaders, including some ministers, opposed the move.
“The party was considering the JPC to break the logjam in Parliament and did not want to be blamed for being adamant,” a cabinet minister said on condition of anonymity. “But a section of Congress leaders feels that this would not be a good idea.”
“Credibility of the government and transparency of the system are important for inclusive growth,” the finance minister said. “Honesty and integrity are most important for the system... People expect the government to take corrective steps.”
Pointing out that the government is in the process of taking such measures, Mukherjee said: “In parliamentary system, it (credibility taking a beating) happens. It happened in the past.”
Mukherjee, also the leader of the Lok Sabha, insisted that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report—that held Raja and the department of telecom responsible for causing the national exchequer a loss of as much as Rs.1.76 trillion over 2G radio spectrum allotment—is not the final word on the matter.
“The CAG’s job is to point out the fundamental irregularities. It has to be re-examined by the public accounts committee, which will call for evidence and submit its report to Parliament,” he said.
PTI contributed to this story.