The Bharatiya Janata Party has played true to form in immobilising Parliament over its demand that the Prime Minister resign in the wake of the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s adverse report on the allocation of coal blocks. It is a behaviour pattern witnessed ever since the BJP moved to the Opposition benches following its shock defeat in the 2004 general election. Rather than use the platform provided by Parliament to grill and expose the government on its failings, the party has revelled in obstructionist theatrics, leading to the unfortunate impression that the principal Opposition is dodging a debate either because it is not well-armed with facts, or worse, because it has something to hide regarding its own conduct. The BJP’s case is that since Coalgate happened partly under Manmohan Singh’s watch, he must resign owning moral responsibility for the scam. Fair enough. But in that case, the BJP ought to have grabbed the UPA government’s offer to hold a discussion on the issue. Joining the argument would have achieved many things for the party: it would have forced the government to explain why and how it came to preside over what has come to be seen as the biggest scam to date. It would have showcased the BJP’s abundant debating talent. And it would have shown that its unsavoury past actions notwithstanding, the party can and will uphold Parliament's best practices and traditions.
Indeed, on the rare occasion that they have taken the floor, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have turned in sterling performances, skewering the government for the world at large to see. Could the BJP be avoiding a discussion on Coalgate because the audit story has turned out to be equally unflattering to itself? As the CAG’s report records, two BJP State governments of the time, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, had opposed competitive bidding in coal block allocation. In response to a 2005 letter from the Union Coal Ministry, Chhattisgarh’s Chief Secretary had argued that bidding of coal blocks would make steel projects unviable. For her part, Vasundhara Raje, who was Rajasthan Chief Minister at the time, had taken cover under federalism, projecting bidding as Central interference in the State’s autonomy and decision-making powers. The BJP’s problem is that for every finger it points at its opponent, it has three pointing back at itself. It cannot start a crusade against corruption without questions being raised about the liberties it offered to the mining mafia in Karnataka. Were it not for these fatal chinks in the Opposition’s armour, the Congress would have been on the mat by now.