If no JPC, Opposition to take issue to people

The Opposition is planning to take this issue to the people by organising joint meetings of leaders in major cities if the government refuses to constitute a JPC. The government wants to confine this issue to the CAG report on 2G spectrum allocation while the Opposition is pressing on broadening its scope and will not mind if the government brings decisions taken on spectrum allocation during the NDA regime under the purview of a new committee.

Leaders of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj and Arjun Jaitley were said to have suggested in the meeting that a JPC should also review the role of the four pillars of democracy —the executive, legislature, judiciary and press — in this regard. If insiders are to be believed, Mr Mukherjee at one point, asked non-UPA leaders whether they wanted mid-term Lok Sabha polls.
At an all-party meeting, the government proposed to attach a five-member multi-disciplinary probe team with the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to go into the CAG report but this was rejected outright by the Opposition. Even key UPA allies Trinamul Congress and DMK seemed to be not averse to a JPC as they said the government had the responsibility of running Parliament even if it meant by accepting the Opposition’s demand. The only issue on which there were differences during the meeting was the period to be covered by the JPC. The DMK wanted a JPC to investigate telecom tenders issued from 1998 but the AIADMK said it should be from 1994 onwards as the sector was privatised in that year, sources said. As the hour-long meeting remained deadlocked, Mr Mukherjee told the Opposition parties that he would get back to them after consulting the PM. Later, a government manager said a JPC is always agreed to “reluctantly” and, even when accepted, it “does not mean defeat”. Mr Mukherjee told the leaders at the meeting that “though the government was not convinced about the need for a JPC probe, if at all it agrees, it would only give in to the Opposition demand”. Catching onto this, Ms Swaraj said whoever (whichever government) has in the past accepted a JPC has only “given in” to the demand. “Why don’t you give up and give in to our demand,” she asked Mr Mukherjee who laughed it off saying that since Ms Swaraj was a lawyer she had caught him. If the Opposition parties feel so, “we can offer a multi-disciplinary investigation agency consisting of officers of various branches of different investigation agencies to help the PAC... Therefore it would be additional to the normal functioning of the PAC,” Mr Mukherjee said.
The BJP, however, said the ramifications of the 2G scam could be larger considering the audio tapes of conversations between a corporate lobbyist and “anchors, journalists and editors” and beyond the powers of a PAC, because of which a JPC would be required.
“A JPC can summon ministers and former ministers, and even the Prime Minister. Two former finance ministers have been summoned by earlier JPCs. The PAC does not have the powers to do so. It only deals with the CAG report,” Ms Swaraj said.
The JPC on the 1992 Harshad Mehta securities scam had summoned Dr Manmohan Singh as finance minister while the JPC on the Ketan Parekh securities scam had summoned then finance minister Yashwant Sinha.
“We said we will not accept (the government’s proposal),” Ms Swaraj said, a view echoed by representatives of other Opposition parties who attended the meeting.
“As the tapes have exposed, the corporate lobbyists decide who should be the minister and the allocation of portfolios. Then they decide what the policy should be and how to go about it,” Mr Jaitley said.
Trinamul Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyay said it was the government’s responsibility to take steps to run Parliament smoothly, even if it requires accepting the Opposition’s JPC demand. “The responsibility of the government is to ensure that the House functions. If the government takes a decision on JPC, we will support it,” he said after attending the meeting.
RLD chief Ajit Singh said when the Opposition is united in its demand for a JPC, the government should at least clarify why it was not accepting it. The government reportedly did not reply to his query.
The Left parties were very vocal and strongly demanded that a JPC be set up. The RJD and BSP stated during the meeting that they would support whatever opinion the majority of the parties held.
A Congress leader said the situation was an “evolving” one, implying that a JPC could not be ruled out.

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