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2G irony: Now Congress banks on JPC not PAC

Last updated on: April 28, 2011 21:02 IST

2G irony: Now Congress banks on JPC not PAC

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Politics is going to get even more sharply polarised in the weeks and months to come. And the 2G scam is not going to die down so easily, says Neerja Chowdhury

The day Public Accounts Committee chairman Dr Murli Manohar Joshi summoned the cabinet secretary and principal secretary to the prime minister to depose before the PAC probing the 2G scam, the MPs belonging to the ruling United Progressive Alliance had shouted down the move. It was a foretaste of things to come and had drawn the battle lines more sharply inside the PAC.

The Congress managed to win over the two Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party MPs to vote against the draft report circulated on Wednesday by Dr Joshi, and thereby ensured that the report in its present form will not be adopted. On Wednesday, the Congress managers were dispatched to 'persuade' the BSP and SP MPs to cast their lot with the UPA, which is what they did, taking the tally to 11 against the report and 10 for it.

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Image: PAC chairman MM Joshi

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Saifuddin Soz to step into Joshi's shoes

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In the pandemonium that ensued during the PAC meet on Thursday, which had been called to adopt the report, Dr Joshi was shouted down, he walked out of the room and the members present elected Saifuddin Soz as PAC chairman in his place. The idea was obviously to ensure that Dr Joshi is not able to pass the report in its present form. Offence often being the best form of defence, the UPA MPs flayed Joshi for arbitrariness in drafting the report.

While the ruling combine members managed successfully to abort the PAC report, at least for the time being, the damage has been done at the wider level. Joshi's circulation of the report to members on Wednesday, and its leak to the media, made sure that its contents were made public.

Image: Saifuddin Soz
Photographs: Reuters
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PAC draft criticises PM, praises Pranab

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Apart from holding A Raja guilty, the report had censured the Prime Minister's Office for not keeping the PM informed in time, criticised the PM for keeping himself aloof which allowed Raja to get away with his 'dubious designs', and it also castigated Union Home Minister P Chidambaram for recommending the closure of the matter to the PM, instead of moving to recover the huge losses to the exchequer that Raja's decisions had entailed. (Interestingly enough, the report ropes in the prime minister and Chidambaram, seen increasingly as a replacement to Dr Manmohan Singh, were a vacancy to arise, but has words of praise for Pranab Mukherjee!)

Given the way the 2G scam has unfolded in recent months, people are more likely to believe these conclusions, than any attempt to dilute the criticism against the PM or government functionaries, which is bound to be seen as a whitewash exercise.

The Congress may have also had another objective in mind.

Image: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee with PM Dr Manmonhan Singh
Photographs: Reuters
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JPC head Chacko insisted that PAC's mandate be limited

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If the present PAC report is aborted, the parliamentary body will have to go into the exercise de novo. A new PAC will come into existence on May 1, and Dr Joshi is once again tipped to head it. But a fresh exercise will take time and it is possible that the Joint Parliamentary Committee, which the government was forced to constitute to probe the 2G scam, after an unyielding opposition refused to let Parliament function, may come out with its report before the PAC gets around to it again.

The present PAC report, had it been adopted, would have rendered the JPC a washout in one swift stroke. If the JPC were to come to conclusions similar to the ones arrived at by Dr Joshi's sharply divided committee, it would have spelt trouble for the Congress members, and indeed for the government.

If the JPC were to soften the blow, its credibility would have come into question. The mere fact of a PAC headed by a BJP leader like Dr Joshi was problematic for P C Chacko, chairman of the JPC. That is why from the beginning Chacko and other members of the UPA were insisting that the PAC's mandate was limited -- which is going into the CAG report and enquiring whether the money was misspent -- and not an all-encompassing one, as Dr Joshi seemed to think.

Image: PC Chacko

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Naive to believe PAC would come out with consensus report

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It would have been na ve to believe that the PAC will come out with a consensus report. The exercise, which had got politicised from day one, is essentially aimed at influencing public perception. Middle-class India is getting increasingly agitated with the way scams are tumbling out, without let. The Congress had won in urban centres in both the 2004 and 2009 general elections, which used to considered the constituency of the BJP.

Urban India, which had 'felt good' with Dr Manmohan Singh's neo-liberal policies, and backed him as an honest PM, suddenly began to experience a 'feel bad' with the plethora of scams that hit the headlines in recent months. And the PM's own image took a beating, as a leader who may be personally honest himself, but is presiding over a highly corrupt regime. The latest PAC draft report only went to reinforce that impression.

Admittedly, A Raja is in jail, a chargesheet has been filed against Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MP Kanimozhi, daughter of Congress ally M Karunanidhi, several corporate honchos have been interrogated and imprisoned, and, finally, Suresh Kalmadi has also been picked up. But the government is not getting the benefit of these actions as it should, because it is seen to be acting at the instance of the Supreme Court, which is cracking the whip.


Image: Former telecom minister A Raja and DMK chief Karunanidhi's daughter Kanimozhi

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Congress, DMK in damage control mode after PAC draft

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Knowing what was at stake, Dr Joshi played his stroke -- though he has relied on the papers given by the government, including the PMO -- and the Congress and DMK retaliated sharply to contain the damage by preventing the adoption of the report.

It is a paradox of Indian politics that it was the Congress which was arguing in favour of the PAC all through the winter session of Parliament last year, pitching it as an effective instrument to probe the scam. It was the BJP, along with other opposition parties, which had pressed for the constitution of nothing other than a JPC. And now the PAC is becoming problematic for the Congress and the JPC may well turn the tables on the opposition in the future.

It goes without saying that politics is going to get even more sharply polarised in the weeks and months to come. And the 2G scam is not going to die down so easily.

Image: Congress President Sonia Gandhi with Karunanidhi

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