The reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) created predictable heat and dust in Parliament today, with the Opposition seeking the resignation of the prime minister. It was clear that the Opposition was preparing itself for a prolonged attack on the government.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) charged that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was directly responsible for the losses in coal allocation. Interestingly, the Janata Dal United (JD-U) pointed out that this was the BJP’s view and that the coalition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was yet to formulate a position on the CAG reports.
The internal contradictions of the NDA came to the fore. Many of the BJP-run state governments have in the past recommended coal allocations and some have got allocations as well. The BJP anticipates that this fact could become embarrassing if details of the same come out. Both the Raman Singh government in Chhattisgarh and the earlier BS Yeddyurappa government in Karnataka have benefitted from coal block allocations. Besides, it is hard to project coal blocks as depriving the common man of any entitlement.
There was no reaction from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — whose nominee in the Union government, Praful Patel, was civil aviation minister and he has been charged by the CAG with favouring the private sector promoters of Delhi airport. None of the other allies of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) reacted to the CAG reports, not even the usually vocal Trinamool Congress. Patel’s defence was simple: That the report says nothing adverse about his dealings with DIAL except the issue of the user development fee. And on this, there is a Supreme Court order.
On coal blocks, the BJP is of the view the Supreme Court must take charge of a probe to be conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). But publicly, BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said the prime minister was directly responsible for the loss and must resign. “The prime minister is directly responsible. He now cannot hide behind any argument. No Raja or Chidambaram can be used as a shield this time, as happened in the 2G spectrum allocation case,” Swaraj said.
BJP leader Arun Jaitley said, “The PM must introspect and accept moral responsibility, and quit office.”
Swaraj said, “The UPA’s term is full of corruption. This is the biggest scam by the UPA government.” But she has set no deadlines, no conditions imposed, suggesting the Opposition sees this as a battle of attrition.
Meanwhile, the Congress put up elaborate defences to shield itself against the fallout of the reports. Minister of state in the PMO, V Narayanaswamy, said the CAG’s word was not gospel. “First, the CAG reports have to be examined by the Public Accounts Committee. Then these have to be tabled, following which the government has to act on the recommendations of the PAC. After that, an action-taken report has to be tabled. Till then, all we have is an estimate of loss, if any, to the exchequer,” said Narayanswamy.
An extended briefing to Congress MPs was conducted by Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal on how to combat the attack on the government. Finance Minister P Chidambaram asked all the three ministers to rebut criticism and take on the attack frontally.