Opposition's demand “neither reasonable nor fair”

The Congress, faced with a united Opposition blocking Parliamentary proceedings for the 17th consecutive working day this session pressing for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe 2G scam, is looking for fresh endorsement from its own allies. Amidst speculation that the ruling party was being pushed by its allies into allowing a JPC and had called a meeting of its United Progressive Alliance partners, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Bansal told journalists that there was no pressure from the allies to set up a JPC, and that “As of now, there is no change in our stand on a JPC.”

Leaders of the allied parties also struck a conciliatory note, with only Trinamool Congress leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee thus far publicly supporting a JPC. Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, for instance, after a meeting with Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, on Monday evening, stressed, “No sine die, no JPC. UPA is united on the issue and there is no rethink.” DMK leader T.R. Baalu told The Hindu, “Let us see what is discussed when the next meeting is held — then we'll decide.” Last month, DMK supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi had said in a statement that his party had never expressed any opinion against the formation of a JPC and that his party's representative had said in Parliament that the DMK would support the Union government's decision. As for TMC leader and Minister of State for Health Dinesh Trivedi, he told The Hindu “We want the truth to prevail, whatever the machinery may be. I am sure everyone in the coalition government wants the same.”

Earlier in the day, Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi, describing the Opposition's demand for a JPC as “neither reasonable nor fair,” stressed that it was intended neither to punish anyone nor to help reform the system, but was merely an instance of “political grandstanding.” Pointing out that there were five agencies already investigating the 2G spectrum scam, he said the object of the Opposition was intended to sensationalise the issue, not make sense of it.

Privately, the Congress' concern is that if a JPC were to be formed, it could summon the Prime Minister before it, something it does not wish to subject Manmohan Singh to, especially after the Supreme Court's observations on him recently. Indeed, the Opposition parties on Monday said they wanted the Prime Minister to appear before a JPC if it is formed. “There is nobody who cannot be called. If Bill Clinton could be called by a parliamentary committee and if British Prime Minister could come, what is wrong in inviting our head of the government to explain,” CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said, while talking to journalists after 11 non-NDA (National Democratic Alliance) opposition parties met to chalk out a common strategy.

The UPA had considered holding a meeting on Monday evening, but as it was not convenient for all the leaders, it is now likely to be held on Tuesday.

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