In a strident response to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's remark that “there are many skeletons in the Opposition's cupboard,” the BJP on Monday accused him of vitiating the environment even before the start of the Parliament session and this was meant to deflect attention from several inconvenient questions being raised against him in the 2G spectrum scandal.
At a joint news conference here, Leaders of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley said available information left little scope for ambiguity that Dr. Singh was involved in ‘micro-managing' the telecom policy and allotment of 2G licences.
The Prime Minister's “unwarranted, unprovoked and irresponsible” remark against the Opposition was a bogey to divert attention from the several questions for which he had no answer, the BJP leaders said.
To a question, Mr. Jaitley said the Opposition had no skeletons in its cupboard. “Let them raise the issues pertaining to the Opposition. We would answer.”
Seeking answers from Dr. Singh on specific issues in the 2G matter, the BJP leaders said the Prime Minister had changed his stand several times.
“From an initial support to his Telecom Minister Shri A. Raja, whom he defended as following a well-established policy, he then pleaded ignorance of telecom matters and informed Parliament that he had trusted the judgment of his Ministers and when Shri Raja and the then Finance Minister, Shri P. Chidambaram, came with an agreed proposal, he unsuspectingly accepted the same.”
On the PMO's clarification, on the noting by the Prime Minister's Private Secretary on a file, that Dr. Singh wanted to maintain an ‘arms length distance' on the 2G spectrum, Mr. Jaitley said it only sought to give an impression that Dr. Singh was ‘hands-on' on spectrum allotment.
The BJP leaders said Mr. Raja had kept Dr. Singh informed through at least nine letters that spectrum allocation was to be made not by auction and that in 2008, spectrum was being allotted at 2001 prices. Mr. Raja had also informed the Prime Minister that he had changed the basis of the first come, first served policy, which would no longer depend on the date of application but on the date of compliance i.e. the date of payment of entry fee.
Dr. Singh already agreed that Mr. Raja and Mr. Chidambaram had, at a meeting in the first week of July 2008, explained to him the lower entry fee rationale. Mr. Jaitley said the government now admitted that when some of the companies which were given licence and spectrum went for issuance of additional equity in favour of some foreign entities, the then Finance Minister was fully involved and the Prime Minister was informed that the sale of equity was as per the FDI (foreign direct investment) policy.
The inconsistency on the part of Dr. Singh made his position far worse, the BJP leaders said, adding a Prime Minister, who maintained an “arm's length distance,” was trying to plead ignorance on the ground that he did not know.
“Did it not strike the ‘hands-on' PM that if a sale of a fraction of the shares of a company which owned the licence and the spectrum could fetch Rs. 6,000 crore, how the government could have allotted the entire spectrum at Rs.1,651 crore? This was simple economics, a subject of the PM's specialisation,” Mr. Jaitley said.