Blackmailing is BJP's bread and butter, says Sonia; staple diet of Congress is kickbacks, says Jaitley

The Congress and the BJP continued sniping at each other on Tuesday, as Parliament lost yet another working day to disruptions and adjournments over the CAG’s report on coal block allotments.

Leading her party from the front, Congress president Sonia Gandhi described the repeated stalling of Parliament as a “matter of shame and regret.” This is “the handiwork of just one party, the BJP.”

She asked her party MPs to aggressively fight the BJP, saying “blackmailing has become the bread and butter” of the party. “We have nothing to be defensive about. Let us stand up and fight, fight with a sense of purpose and fight aggressively.”

BJP’s Arun Jaitley hit back with equal ferocity. “A government whose integrity has been painted black in the coal deals cannot be blackmailed. The staple diet of the Congress ever since [the] Bofors [scandal] has been kickbacks and commissions.”

Ms. Gandhi, who was addressing a meeting of the Congress Parliamentary Party, charged the BJP with political motives in targeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “The Prime Minister has laid a detailed statement [in Parliament]. That statement is clear, comprehensive and cogent. It completely exposes the BJP and its false propaganda.”

She asserted that the government and the Prime Minister were ready to discuss the CAG report, but the right forum for the discussion was Parliament, which was held to ransom by the BJP. Ms. Gandhi’s aggression found immediate reflection in the Congress, with Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pawan Kumar Bansal accusing the BJP of being fascist in trying to impose its will on a majority government that had the people’s mandate. “The BJP has refused to follow parliamentary procedures. Now, the Leader of the Opposition is openly saying the BJP is happy to be in magnificent isolation. This is a diabolical design to subvert the democratic system. It is a sign of fascism.”

Meanwhile, at the BJP’s daily press briefing, spokesperson Prakash Javadekar produced documents to show that of the 70 coal blocks allocated between 2006 and 2009 to various companies for specific uses, not one had gone into production. He said he got the documents as part of a reply to an unstarred question he posed in the Rajya Sabha. He wanted to know why the government was in a hurry to bypass competitive bidding when the truth was that “till today, there has been no production in any of the… blocks.” Mr. Javadekar alleged that the Manmohan Singh government had distributed 17 billion tonnes of coal reserves worth Rs. 51 lakh crore for free. “This is nothing but chori [thieving].”

He produced a February 5, 2008 letter written by the then Minister of State, Subodh Kant Sahai, to the Prime Minister, seeking allotment of two coal blocks to a company. The Prime Minister’s Office immediately forwarded the letter to the Coal Secretary for “action as appropriate,” he said. “What is more, the company was given the allotment the very next day. This is a shocking instance of how arbitrary and mala fide the allocations were.”

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