The UPA government had hoped to push its social welfare agenda through in Parliament by legislating on food security and land acquisition. Instead, just five days into the second half of the ongoing budget session, it is engaged in damage control, trying to put out three fires simultaneously — the coal blocks’ allocation issue, the 2G JPC imbroglio and West Bengal’s chit fund scandal.
Government sources stressed that to pass these key bills “some compromises” would have to be made — perhaps a parliamentary enquiry into Coalgate: “We’ll have to bring the Opposition back by offering a carrot,” said a source.
The Opposition has not just sought the resignations of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Law Minister Ashwini Kumar because of the latter’s controversial meeting with the CBI officials to discuss the coal blocks affidavit; it now wants the government to table all papers associated with it in Parliament. It has also questioned the role of Finance Mnister P. Chidambaram’s lawyer wife, Nalini, and that of Union MoS for Health A.H. Khan Chowdhury in West Bengal’s chit fund scam. Finally, the Congress finds itself cornered on the 2G JPC, with all other political parties so determined to reject JPC chairman P.C. Chacko’s report that Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar has been asked to adjudicate on the matter.
Ministerial sources appeared most concerned about coalgate: the Congress line is to wait till April 30 when the CBI affidavit, submitted on Friday to the Supreme Court, comes up for hearing — and this is what the government is likely to say if the Opposition demands a statement on Monday on why the CBI shared its affidavit with Mr. Kumar and Joint Secretaries in the PMO and the Coal Ministry. A senior Cabinet Minister said, “The issue is not whether the Law Minister saw the affidavit, corrected some grammatical errors and deleted repetitions, but whether he sought to influence the CBI.”
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath, who met top BJP leaders on Friday to break the gridlock in both Houses to pass the Rail budget and the Finance Bill, however, made it clear that Mr. Kumar would not be asked to resign as Law Minister. “The Law Minister may be expendable but once you remove him,” a senior Congress leader explained, “the PM will be in the direct line of opposition fire.”
On the JPC issue, the Congress hopes the Speaker will delay a decision on Mr. Chacko’s fate. The JPC’s Congress MPs have also represented to the Speaker that the BJP MPs on the panel — Yashwant Sinha, Jaswant Singh and Ravi Shankar Prasad — be removed, citing conflict of interest. Simultaneously, the Congress sources believe the West Bengal government and the Trinamool Congress will have to bear the brunt of the chit fund scandal, saying the link with Ms. Nalini Chidambaram is tenuous and Mr. Chowdhury’s change of heart — the fact that he had retracted written charges against the Saradha Group — not of great consequence. The Congress also hopes to exploit the fact that while the CPI (M) is more intent on pinning down the Trinamool, the BJP has been soft on the party as it hopes it will eventually support the NDA.