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BJP unyielding; search on for way to end coalgate logjam

August 24, 2012 20:26 IST

Some of Bharatiya Janata Party's allies have proposed a "via media" which could end the current impasse in Parliament over "coalgate" which disrupted Parliament all of this week.

They have suggested that the BJP, which has gone in for the maximalist demand of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation, should allow a parliamentary discussion to take place next week on the CAG's report, after which they can go back to stalling Parliament in the last week of the monsoon session, saying they are not satisfied with the government's defence.

This way they will be able to maintain the hype over the Rs 1.86 lakh crore presumptive loss to the exchequer, found by the CAG in his latest report, and yet be able to counter the criticism that the BJP is disrupting Parliament because it does not really want a debate on the subject.

The government has charged that its chief ministers -- of Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand -- were party to the decisions which were taken in the allocation of captive coal blocks and had in writing opposed the PM-proposed auction policy after 2005.

The government has these letters and plans to make use of them during the course of the parliamentary debate to buttress its case.

But the hawks in the BJP -- this time they are led by LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj and their supporters -- are not in a mood to relent. A debate at this stage, they feel, will blunt the momentum they have managed to build against the prime minister.

In 2009, the charge of a "weak PM" which was levelled by Advani, did not stick to Dr Manmohan Singh. In 2012, they hope that the charge of a "corrupt" PM -- the PM was also coal minister for three and a half years in UPA I, in the period scrutinised by the CAG -- might stick, given the current climate prevalent in the country.

Coal, they also calculate, is an issue with which the people will identify more easily, and it lends itself more to evocative slogans with which they can go into elections -- like 'kaali sarkar', 'kaali kartootaen', and so on -- than was the case with spectrum. It is a golden opportunity which has come their way and they do not want to let go of it.

The BJP leaders have been reaching out to non-Congress parties to ascertain the extent to which they would be prepared to go. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has already made common cause with them and its members joined the BJP to actively stall both houses.

Though allies like the Janata Dal-United favour a discussion in Parliament, they are not likely to break ranks with the BJP on an issue like coalgate.

The government has offered a discussion on the CAG's coal report under any rule, and Finance Minister P Chidambaram made yet another plea to the opposition to agree to a debate.

It has even been willing to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the matter. And the first FIR in the matter was filed on Friday against a dozen corporates.

But the government's credibility is so low that any charge leveled against it today tends to stick. It is sorely missing the presence of its ace troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee.

Knowing this, the non-Congress parties, whether in the UPA or out of it, want the BJP to press ahead with its attack against the ruling party, because it will weaken the Congress and they have over the years gained at the Congress' expense. BJP leaders say that these parties, and in their words, they "also include the Congress' allies in the UPA", have privately urged them not to relent.

Mulayam Singh Yadav whose Samajwadi Party props the UPA in power, is believed to have exhorted Sushma Swaraj last Thursday not to attend the meeting which had been called by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar to try and break the impasse in the House.

He has also promised to attend the meeting called by Swaraj in her chamber on Monday morning to plan future strategy. Though Mulayam Singh is known for his flip-flops, his stance made the BJP upbeat that a "regrouping" may take place of regional parties which are ready to take on the Congress.

The Monday meeting will determine whether the BJP presses ahead with its disruption tactic, in which case this session is unlikely to transact any business and the government may then be compelled to adjourn it earlier than September 7.

As for the criticism that is coming its way from one section of the middle class, that the main opposition party is being irresponsible in not allowing the two Houses to function, the BJP hopes to ride it. In its view, this opinion does not add upto much, in the face of the widespread and mounting anger against corruption in small, middle as also metro India.

Some in the party, like Advani, hope that this would bring on an early general election, but even if it does not, they want to electorally encash the anti-Congress sentiment in the nine state assemblies going to the polls in the next one year, and the party has a direct stake in most of the poll-bound states like Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

While the BJP hopes to gain from striking while the iron is hot, whether this would bring on an early election will depend not on the BJP, but on parties like the Trinamool Congress and the Samajwadi Party. The SP may stand to gain from an early election and Mulayam Singh indicated he would not be averse to it when he made a pitch for a third front prime minister last week.

For the moment, Mamata Banerjee is playing ball with the UPA. She spurned the overtures made by the BJP, when its leaders Shahnawaz Hussain and Rajiv Pratap Rudy met her earlier this week, and she attended the UPA's coordination committee instead.

But many believe she is biding her time, and waiting to see if she is given the financial package for West Bengal, that the prime minister appears to have promised her, to her satisfaction.

Neerja Chowdhury