An all out war broke out on Thursday in the JPC on 2G scam when half of its 30 members demanded removal of the committee chief P C Chacko and the ruling party hitting back by seeking the ouster of three BJP members.
On his part, Chacko, accused by the Opposition of playing a partisan role as chairman, ruled out quitting the post saying he would continue to do the job.
The simmering confrontation between the Opposition and the Congress erupted into a full scale confrontation on a day of dramatic developments when 15 members belonging to BJP, Janata Dal-United, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Left parties, Trinamool Congress, and Biju Janata Dal joined hands expressing "no confidence" in Chacko.
In the 30-member Committee, Congress has 11 members, including Chacko and its ally Nationalist Congress Party has one member. The role of three members of BSP and SP, both outside allies of Congress, are keenly watched as to whether they would come to the rescue of the government in case of a vote in the Committee when it meets next.
On a day when the Committee was to meet to consider the draft report amidst indications that a vote could decide the issue, Chacko adjourned the meeting in the wake of a death of a Lok Sabha member on account of which the House was adjourned. The meeting may be held early next week.
Angry Opposition members then petitioned Speaker Meira Kumar seeking the removal of Chacko, a senior Congress leader, accusing him of "highly partisan, unfair and prejudicial" conduct. They blamed him for leakage of the draft report which gave a clean chit to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
The opposition members alleged that Chacko has failed in his duty to lead the JPC to bring out the truth. "Instead he has used the JPC to conceal and subvert the truth," their letter to the Speaker alleged.
Hours later, Congress countered the move, with its members meeting the Speaker to demand removal of three BJP members Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad, the ground of "conflict of interest".
These members were "instrumental in taking major decisions relating to the telecom sector that are being investigated into by the JPC as its terms of reference is spread over the period from 1998 to 2009, said letter by Congress members to the Speaker.
They said Singh was Chairman of a high-level Group on Telecom in 1998 and later head of a Group of Ministers on Telecom in which Sinha and Prasad were members.
Under the rules, while members of the JPC are elected by both the Houses of Parliament, the Chairman is appointed by the Speaker, whose discretion it will be whether to remove a chairman.
Similarly, it will be the discretion of the House concerned to remove the members elected to Committees, experts say.
Asked for his comments, Chacko said as long as he has no instructions from the Speaker, whose discretion it is to decide on the Opposition demand, he would continue to do the job. The Speaker's ruling will be final, he added.
He said it would be better not to have a vote on the draft report and instead it should be adopted by consensus.
On his part, Sinha rejected the Congress demand for the removal of BJP members and described the ruling party members as "illiterate".
Sinha said the same demand was made by Congress members immediately after the constitution of Committee, through election by the House, and the Speaker had rejected it.
The BJP leader quoted from the Speaker's ruling of May 18, 2011, to say that the demand of the Congress members "was not in order".
The Speaker had then held that the fact that the BJP members were ministers of the earlier government and it was in public knowledge.
The mere fact that they were ministers did not constitute any personal, pecuniary or direct interest in the matter and that it was presumed that Parliament was aware of this fact when it elected them as members of the JPC, Sinha said quoting from the Speaker's ruling.
"No confidence motion against P C Chacko has been moved by majority of the members of JPC. Only six out of 15 signatories are from BJP," Swaraj posted on Twitter.
She underscored the fact that BJP is not the only party seeking Chacko's replacement.
As their roles are keenly watched, the SP is maintaining that former Telecom Minister A Raja should have been called by the JPC as he wanted to depose. However, the party does not want Chacko's removal or a vote on the issue.
From the opposition side, members from NDA and other parties submitted letters to the Speaker separately.
In the letters, formulated by these parties in consultation with each other, the members expressed their anger at the manner in which Chacko conducted the proceedings.
They alleged that the report was leaked to the media before they were given copies.
The action of the opposition members was precipitated by the cancellation of today's JPC meeting in which the report was to be adopted. They had earlier planned to press for a vote on the draft report at today's JPC meeting.
The draft report, while giving clean chit to the prime minister and the finance minister, has targeted the NDA government, saying it had to "forego" revenue to the tune of Rs 42,080.34 crore while offering Migration Package to cellular operators.
At the AICC briefing, party spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary hit out at the protesting members of the Opposition parties asking why they have "woken up now".
Party leaders dismissed suggestions that it has miscalculated the Opposition strategy but conceded that certain developments panned out unexpectedly.
Seeking to put a brave face against the backdrop of the latest political crisis over the 2G scam, Chowdhary said at the AICC briefing that such "political posturing and positioning" and "mathematics of politics" happen and "Congress will cross the bridge when it comes".
Replying to questions, Chowdhary emphasized that it was for the Speaker to decide the issue as it was her jurisdiction to "retain the balance of Parliamentary democracy".
Congress leaders insisted that there was no provision in the rules and regulations providing for removal of the JPC chairman.
While lambasting the Opposition members for their attack on the JPC chairman, Chowdhary asked them what they were doing so far.
"All of them were the members of the JPC, when this report was being prepared. I want to ask them did they not attend the JPC meetings and did they just sign (on documents) and used to disappear...It did not happen in one night.
"Why did they not raise it then. Did they feel that the time was not politically opportune and it is so now and hence they are raising it. Why they have woken up now to say that they have no confidence in the JPC Chairman," Chowdhary said.
At the same time, the Congress spokesperson said that the party was "confident of dealing with whatever situation emerges...we are not unduly worried. We are talking. It goes with the political tide".
She steered clear of questions that whether Chacko will meet the same fate as that of JPC Chairman as Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP, who headed the PAC and was isolated on the panel's report on 2G.
The ruling party also utilised the occassion to accuse the Opposition of not allowing Parliament to run. "If we are the accused, we are not running away. Why are you running away from Parliament."
Making an appeal to the Opposition to allow Parliament to transact its business, she said that it was a "denial of right of information" about Parliament's functioning to the citizens.
Asked whether she is confident that the JPC report would be adopted, Chowdhary was evasive. "Let us see what happens...to adopt anything, we need to function."
Citing Constitutional provisions under Articles 91 and 92, BJP said that when a no-confidence against the chairman of Rajya Sabha or Speaker has been expressed by 50 per cent of the members, he or she cannot preside over the proceedings and neither cast his vote.
"Elementary principle of fairness demands that Chacko now cannot preside on any meeting of the JPC...50 per cent of the members have given in writing expressing no-confidence in him," party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said.