After a week-long mauling by BJP Congress Picks Up The Gauntlet
Retaliating against the BJP, after more than a week of Parliament being stalled and the government put on the mat. The Congress said, “Jis soch ne Mahatma Gandhi ki hatya ki thi. Wahi soch loktantra ki hatya kar rahi hai.” The frontal and political attack against the BJP came from Union Minister Kapil Sibal who came to the AICC platform and ripped apart the double speak of the BJP on the issue of coalgate, with the BJP using the CAG report to shut down Parliament and not allow any business to be transacted. The Congress party’s aggression against the BJP has surfaced after Sonia Gandhi asked the party and the government to take the BJP head on and expose its politics of blackmail and the manner in which democracy was being hijacked.
While the BJP is holding daily press conferences to push ahead with the issue of coalgate knowing full well that many of the coal blocks allocated were given to BJP loyalists on the recommendation of BJP state governments. But having ridden the tiger, the BJP is finding it difficult to get off. Sources say that the BJP decided to take on the Congress immediately after the CAG report on coal was made public and pitched the demand for the Prime Minister’s resignation high. Sources say the BJP was given to understand by the CAG that the scam was of monumental proportions. It was a situation which suited the senior BJP leader LK Advani as well as his party colleagues who did not want a discussion on the issue. But having read the fine print in the report, BJP leaders now admit that they reacted superfast and pitched the demand too high. They are now finding it difficult to backtrack though unofficially its leaders are saying that if the Prime Minister announces punitive action and cancels the allotments, a way forward can be found.
But Union Minister Kapil Sibal has ruled out cancellation of the licences for coal block allocation saying such a step would cause huge financial losses and would badly affect the country’s power sector. He said that the country already had a huge shortfall and this would further worsen the situation. Coming down hard on the BJP, Kapil Sibal said that there was no questioning of anyone benefiting from the coal block allocation as the coal was never sold. He accused the BJP of raking up the issue for no rhyme or reason except for its desperation to come to power at the Centre before 2014 and pushing for a mid-term poll. According to Sibal, “Under the nationalisation policy, coal cannot be sold…coal from the blocks allotted was never sold. So who would have benefited.”
The Congress on the other hand has targeted the BJP-led NDA government for allocating coal blocks between 1998 and August 19, 2003, without adopting any procedures whatsoever. The guidelines under the NDA for allotment to the public/private sector for captive mining allowed a freehand to the screening committee. The question being asked by the Congress is: if the screening committee’s procedures post-2005 are being questioned and presumptive loss calculated, then what about presumptive loss of allocations made between 1998 and 2004? In 2004 the NDA was voted out and the Congress came to power.
The UPA framed new guidelines many of which were strict and the procedure for allocation was streamlined to ensure more transparency said the Congress party. It has given the guidelines framed by them as well as the procedures adopted by the NDA where hardly any rules have been put on paper. The Congress has brought out the names of certain companies and it wants to know from Arun Jaitley what were the “transparent procedures” adopted by the NDA while making allocations to these companies.
The Congress has also listed instances of the ministers and their utterances on abusing the CAG during the NDA period especially on coffin gate as well as Arun Shourie’s abuses against the then CAG. When the NDA was confronted with the demand for a CBI probe into the Centaur Hotel scam, after the CAG report on it was released in February 2004, Arun Shourie, the then Minister for Disinvestment, is reported to have retorted: “It is ironic that we swallow or vomit allegations.”
He further said, “The methodology of computing notional losses is idiotic… sorry peculiar.” He further said, “CAG needs streamlining, if the same logic of notional losses was extended to earlier disinvestment deals, the government should compensate Reliance and Tatas” and then said, “I will take up the issue with the Cabinet Secretary and CAG.”
In December 2001 when the CAG report on coffin purchases came out, Arun Jaitley said, “ CAG is an institution appointed to find faults” and that CAG’s “findings are based on hearsay”. He had also remarked that “comptroller generals don’t go to war, army generals do”. George Fernandes also had his views on the CAG. He said, “It is CAG which has acted unethically.”
Revisiting the NDA and the utterances of its leaders, its almost like listening to the Congress leaders who have been saying almost the same things when their decisions are being questioned. Sources in the BJP readily admit that with the UPA looking weak and frail, the BJP is all out to take advantage and recapture the anti-Congress space which they thought had been hijacked by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal. BJP leaders openly admit that they have succeeded in recapturing that space by creating an atmosphere against the ruling party on its acts of corruption.
The BJP admits that the systematic campaign against the ruling party particularly the fact that it put the government in the dock on 2G and ensured the resignation of Raja had made them think that coalgate was as big an issue.
But the aggression of the Congress and its leaders and its refusal to give in to the BJP has also put the BJP in the dock and raised the question within its ranks on how far they should carry this battle. There are differences within the party and its allies on how far to dirty its fingers in coal, particularly when the BJP President Nitin Gadkari is holidaying in Canada with his family, without obviously a care in the world having left the dirty business of coal to LK Advani. He is obviously unperturbed by the fact that a full coal block was allotted to his key confidante Anil Sancheti in Chhattisgarh bypassing and overlooking rules and procedures and given for a pittance of the royalty which the mine next to his has had to dish out in what was a fair deal!
Slamming the BJP, the Congress says the BJP does not think about the nation but wants to come to power before 2014, driven by the ideology which killed Mahatma Gandhi. “It believes in the ideology of disruption and killing of democracy.”
On both sides the words being used are strong, the charges being levelled are serious as both the national parties fight to create the right atmospherics for the next general elections even as all other parties, regional or others have been reduced to be bystanders watching the power play as both the Congress and the BJP work on dividing the political space between the two of them.
By Renu Mittal