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BJP all set to take 'Coal-gate' into 'next election'

Last updated on: August 23, 2012 07:56 IST

BJP all set to take 'Coal-gate' into 'next election'

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Neerja Chowdhury

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has upped the ante by demanding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation in "Coal-gate" scam, is now in a mood for a fight to the finish, in the words of one of its senior leaders, and to take it "into the next election", writes Neerja Chowdhury.

With the battle lines getting sharply drawn between the ruling combine and the main opposition, the situation seemed to be heading towards the kind of confrontation that was evident in 1989, when the VP Singh-led opposition had cornered the ruling Congress before the elections.

BJP MPs walked out of the meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, probing the 2G spectrum scam, calling it a "kangaroo court". And there was speculation on Wednesday that the BJP, which is also holding talks with other opposition parties, may quit the JPC first, and later exit from other parliamentary committees to step up pressure on the PM.

The opposition party continued to disrupt Parliament on day two, following the tabling of Comptroller and Auditor General's report which has pointed to the loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to the government in the allocation of coal blocks through the non-competitive route.

Its leaders made it clear that they would not allow Parliament to function, certainly all of this week, and said they would consider "what to do next week".

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Image: Senior BJP leader LK Advani speaks to the media while party president Gadkari, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj and other leaders look on, in New Delhi
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters

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'The government has nothing to hide'

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Surprisingly, it was the Congress party which was willing to hold a discussion in Parliament on the CAG's report, and it was the BJP which ruled it out, saying that a discussion would not yield anything.

Several senior Congress leaders said they were even willing to concede the constitution of a JPC to probe "Coal-gate". Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said the government had nothing to hide; that it was the PM who had suggested the auction route in 2004 and the Congress wanted a discussion which would separate "doodh ka doodh and paani ka paani".

But, again, and this too was surprising, this time, unlike the case of the 2G scam, the BJP -- which had stalled the whole winter session of Parliament in 2010 -- did not demand a JPC into "Coal-gate".

Its leaders said they had seen how "futile" and "beimaan" (dishonest) the exercise was proving to be in the case of the JPC into 2G scam.

There are some who suspect that the BJP is avoiding a debate this time because its chief ministers -- Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan when it was in power, and also the former Left government in West Bengal -- had written to the central government, making a case against the auction route during UPA-I, and this too would get exposed during the course of a debate.

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Image: Trucks move in the Mahanadi coal fields in Odisha
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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BJP smells an opportunity

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Others sense that the Advani group in the BJP has set the agenda for the party this time by taking a maximalist position, making a retreat that much more difficult. They make a case for early elections.

Their hawkish position against a debate in Parliament is aimed at taking the battle to the streets, so that it can bring on early elections. They are also trying to feel their way with other opposition groups and Shahnawaz Hussain and Rajiv Pratap Rudy had a meeting with Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday.

Banerjee is holding her cards close to her chest and it is said that the prime minister has assured her state a financial package that President Pranab Mukherjee, when he held the finance portfolio, was not prepared to give her.

Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav, who pitched for a Third Front PM next time round, seems to be in a mood for an early general election.

The BJP smells an opportunity in the CAG's report, seizing it as an issue, possibly even more emotive than the 2G scam, to attack the Congress by disrupting Parliament.

The losses to the exchequer cited in the CAG's report -- Rs 1.86 lakh crore -- through the allocation of captive coal blocks is more than the losses mentioned by the CAG in the 2G scam of 1.76 lakh crore.

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Image: BJP activists burn an effigy of PM Singh during an anti-fuel price hike protest in Kolkata
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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UPA on a sticky wicket

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This time, the prime minister is more directly in the dock, having been the coal minister for three-and-a-half years in the period 2004-2009, being scrutinised by the CAG.

As it is, the image that prevailed in UPA-I of a "bechaara" Manmohan Singh has given way to one of a weak and helpless prime minister, presiding over a corrupt regime. The BJP wants to keep hammering at this for as long as it can, to inflict further damages on the Congress.

What is more, people identify more with coal than with spectrum. What makes the situation worse for the UPA is that with its credibility having plummeted in the last two years because of a plethora of scams, any charge coming its way is more likely to stick, further damaging its prospects.

The only silver lining for the Congress are the divisions coming to the fore in the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance over the extent to which it should boycott a debate in Parliament.

The Janata Dal-United is in favour of a debate in Parliament on the issue.

 


Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Photographs: Reuters

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