The BJP walkout at a Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting on Wednesday opened up a new and unexpected political attack on the UPA government, which is already under siege on several counts including the CAG report on the coal scam.
A fierce argument over the list of witnesses to be summoned before the JPC, investigating the 2G scam, sparked acrimonious exchanges. Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha, Dharmendra Pradhan and Ravi Shankar Prasad, all of the BJP, walked out after a stalemate on demands to include Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the list of witnesses.
According to CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta, the meeting took an ugly turn after a witness list of over 100 people, who are irrelevant to the investigation, was circulated by JPC chairman and Congress leader P.C. Chacko. It is learnt that this list included all former and present Secretaries of the Law Ministry, Buta Singh, Ram Vilas Paswan, all Ministers of State, all PMO officials and all corporate beneficiaries of the migration package of 1999.
“This is a deliberate attempt to overload the committee and divert its attention from the task at hand,” Mr. Dasgupta said.
Though the BJP supported a shorter list of 13 names submitted by Mr. Dasgupta, it wanted the Prime Minister and Mr. Chidambaram summoned instantly.
Manish Tewari is learnt to have raised objections on the ground that Mr. Chidambaram has already been exonerated by the Central Bureau of Investigation. To this, Mr. Dasgupta pointed out that a parliamentary committee is independent and not bound by the CBI.
“All of us, in our own way, put forth our demand with regard to the list of witnesses. This matter has been pending for almost eight weeks. We suggested that the PM and Mr. Chidambaram be called to the JPC to appear as witnesses, because the JPC is the body where ministers can appear,” said Mr. Sinha.
“No sooner did we raise this demand than the Congress members started using foul language against us. One member went to the extent of saying that we [BJP] want to convert the JPC into a kangaroo court. The chairman was not prepared to restrain those members. We had no choice in the circumstances but to stage a walkout. We hope good sense will prevail on the chairman and other members of the JPC and we will see what we can do,” the BJP leader added.
Mr. Chacko said five members of the BJP walked out without any provocation.
BJP accuses Congress of foul language
The angry exchanges over the witness list continued through the day.
Mr. Tewari retaliated, accusing the BJP of trying to earn brownie points and further its political agenda. “Those who believe that treating high dignitaries in an ignominious manner is your remit, that surely under no circumstances can be permitted. If at all any insinuations, any averment has been made, that I used any language, which is unparliamentary, I reject it with the vehemence it deserves. I leave it to the discretion of the chairperson to decide if there were any word which in any manner is unparliamentary, it is free to be expunged. As somebody who regularly practises in constitutional courts, I do know what words should be used and what words should not be used in a parliamentary committee but that does not mean we will allow a parliamentary committee to be reduced to a political theatre just because it serves somebody’s political agenda,” he said.
Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad defended the BJP’s move: “No fair investigation in the 2G scam will be permissible and possible by the JPC unless the Finance Minister and the PM are called along with the PM’s Secretary.” It was insulting to senior BJP leaders to be showered with abuses by first-timers for making the demand. “The totality of the circumstances was very clear, that a very provocative atmosphere was sought to be created, apart from other considerations, leaving us no option but to walk out,” Mr. Prasad said.
Refuting the charge of using foul language and calling the BJP’s move pre-meditated, Nripender Hooda, the other Congress MP under attack by the BJP, said, “There is nothing that either myself or Mr. Tewari said which should have sparked this sort of reaction from any quarters. The BJP was using this opportunity for summoning the PM as a political tool. That’s exactly what we pointed out. Once we pointed that out, they left. Even before Mr. Tewari and I commented, some of the things they said made it very clear to us that they were going to walk out. It is very unfortunate,” Mr. Hooda said.
“The BJP’s walking out today is unfortunate. At the same time, I appeal to them to come back and remain a part of the committee and produce as far as possible an objective report,” Mr. Dasgupta said.
The BJP has said it will reveal its strategy for participation in the JPC at a press conference on Thursday.