New Delhi: The opposition on Wednesday raised the political stakes in its face-off with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government after it made Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the focus of attacks on the government for alleged acts of graft, including the allotment of 2G spectrum.
At a rally held at the Ramlila grounds in the Capital, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) declined to withdraw its demand for a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) and implicitly renewed its threat to prevent the House from functioning in the crucial budget session due in February.
To be sure, this grouping of political parties does not include the Left Front combine, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Predictably, the Congress rallied behind Singh, who has been criticized both within and outside the party for his leadership during the recent crisis triggered by a series of alleged irregularities in the sale of 2G spectrum as well as the conduct of the Commonwealth Games. The Congress attacked the opposition’s concerted move to “denigrate the Prime Minister’s Office”.
With elections due in the key states of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala, the impasse is unlikely to end soon. With the Congress handicapped for numbers in the Lok Sabha, the policy paralysis in the UPA, which was re-elected last year, is expected to continue.
“Face the JPC and answer all the questions we have raised. If you cannot do that, then on moral grounds, you must quit the post of Prime Minister,” said Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha.
Reiterating that there was no need for a JPC into the 2G spectrum allocation, Singh, while addressing the Congress party’s 83rd plenary session on Monday, offered to appear before the public accounts committee, which is examining irregularities in spectrum allocation, though there is no precedent for this. The committee is headed by BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi.
Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, who has in the past criticized Singh for being a “weak Prime Minister”, said, “Pradhan Mantriji (Prime Minister), you have the authority to ensure that a JPC is ordered. Please say that if I can appear before a PAC, I can appear before a JPC.”
“This is beginning of our movement against the PM,” he added.
Nearly all the leaders who spoke at the rally chose to target the Prime Minister. Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, said Singh was as much of a “culprit” in corruption scandals since he had kept quiet while alleged irregularities were taking place.
“When it came back to power in the second term, people thought the UPA government had become stronger. But in just a year of being in power, it was bogged down by inflation issues and in a year-and-a-half, by corruption scandals,” Swaraj said.
The Congress condemned the BJP’s attack on Singh. “The BJP is trying to play politics so that they can put a lot of issues under the carpet. That’s why they are into this mudslinging. The Prime Minister’s Office should not be denigrated like this. We condemn their reaction with equal vehemence,” said P.C. Chacko, a senior party leader and spokesperson of the Congress party.
Subrata Mukherjee, a professor in the department of political science, Delhi University, said: “There are two things here—one, it is the Prime Minister’s inaction, and two, it is that he is the most powerful person in the cabinet. So, the line the opposition is taking against him is that given he is the most important player in the system, how is it that he is not taking any action against other players under him who are shady?”
However, Jyotirmaya Sharma, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad and a BJP-watcher, attributed the BJP’s virulent campaign against the Prime Minister to its own “weaknesses”. “It has not been reconciled to the loss of power and is trying to cover up the differences within,” Sharma said.
Both Sharma and Mukherjee do not see any solution to the current impasse. “Important elections are due next year, so the opposition is only likely to step up the agitation,” Mukherjee said.
Other leaders present on the dais included BJP party president Nitin Gadkari and senior leader Venkaiah Naidu, Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav and Akali Dal head Parkash Singh Badal. This is the first in a series of rallies planned by the opposition in the next two months, ahead of the budget session in February. The next rally is in Guwahati on 9 January.
Anuja contributed to this story.