JPCs have never nailed the guilty: Bansal

A combative Congress finally hit back on Wednesday, launching a two-pronged attack on the Opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party.

First, it cited the Supreme Court's observation that the Central Bureau of Investigation should probe the 2G spectrum scam from 2001 onwards, in support of its own allegations against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance that the latter blocked a debate in Parliament to blank out its record in the Telecom Ministry between 1998 and 2004.

Simultaneously, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal underlined the Congress' “constructive” conduct while in opposition, while stressing that past experience with joint parliamentary committees demonstrated that they never succeeded in “nailing” the guilty. For, they tended to function along partisan lines. Mr. Bansal described as a “clear breach of privilege of the House” the action of senior NDA leaders expressing reservations about the fast pace of the Public Accounts Committee, headed by the BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi, in examining the Comptroller and Auditor-General's Report on the 2G spectrum scam.

It was also a day which saw CBI searches on the houses of the former Telecom Minister A. Raja, his family members and aides, something government sources underscored as evidence that it meant business.

Asked whether the searches on Mr. Raja would not drive a wedge between the party and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham, a Congress leader said: “No, not at all. The CAG's report is in the public space. If Mr. Raja is to be exonerated, it will have to be through the investigative process. Six months are left for the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections — [by which time] the inquiry could end one way or the other. This has been put squarely to the DMK leadership.”

However, the Congress is taking no chances with its allies. Publicly, these parties, addressing their constituencies in their States, have indicated that they have no objection to a JPC probe into the 2G scam; privately, they have assured the Congress they will support whatever decision it takes and stick with the United Progressive Alliance.

A senior Congress source said a scheduled meeting between Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and the allies on Monday was cancelled, lest “leaks” from that session create an impression of dissonance within the government. The Congress, the source said, decided not to hold any “meeting” with the allies during what remains of this Parliament session and, instead, designated Mr. Bansal to “speak” for the coalition.

However, communication lines between the Congress and its allies are kept open: on Wednesday, DMK leader T.R. Baalu met both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Mukherjee separately, to discuss the impact of the excessive rains in Tamil Nadu, while a Trinamool Congress delegation called on Congress president Sonia Gandhi, apparently to discuss West Bengal-related issues.

‘Emperor without clothes’

Meanwhile, welcoming the Supreme Court's observations, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said, “Those who held Parliament to ransom did so because a parliamentary debate would have exposed their role and policy in the telecom sector. It would have been a case of the emperor without clothes.”

If every change in the telecom policy made during the UPA's six years in power was to be interpreted as a scam, Mr. Tewari stressed, it would only be fair that all policy changes effected during the NDA rule were also examined to find out whether these were made to benefit the telecom sector or private individuals.

Elaborating, Mr. Tewari said the CAG Report for 1998-99 showed that the NDA government's policies led to a substantive – not presumptive – loss to the exchequer; that its allocation of spectrum to existing operators, beyond what it was obliged to, in 2002, in the name of increasing tele-density, “proved to be a bonanza for telecom operators.” And, in April 2004, in the midst of the general elections, the NDA government reduced the licence fee for all operators.

Mr. Bansal accused the Opposition of doing “irreversible and immeasurable damage” to Parliament. He said it was unprecedented in Indian parliamentary history so many consecutive working days were lost on account of the Opposition protest.

Referring to the first JPC that was accepted by the Congress government in 1987, he said only one working day was lost then; similarly in 1992, a JPC was accepted on the Harshad Mehta affair by the Congress without any disruption.

“Our experience,” Mr. Bansal said, was that JPCs tend to “function on polarised lines,” and, therefore, nothing concrete ever emerged from them as in the case of the Bofors JPC.

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