The Bhartiya Janata Party must be thanking its stars and the state auditor - the CAG - for the much needed oxygen that it so desperately required in the run up to the all important 2014 General Elections. Ever since the CAG charged the government with allotting and not auctioning coal blocks to private players, leading to a potential loss Rs 1.86 lakh crore in revenue, the nation has witnessed parliamentary paralysis.
Blame and counter blame, attacks and counter attacks and even a poetic face-off between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj – the nation has seen it all. The saffron party has smelt blood and it is in no mood to relent and has been vociferously demanding the resignation of the PM. The main Opposition has not let the Parliament function and is in no mood for a debate till its demands are met.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley categorically stated that it was not for a one d
ay debate in the House and would stick to its stand even if no other political party supported it. “Even if we had to stand alone, it would be a majestic isolation,” he stated. He also said, “Suggestions that the issue should be debated only in the Parliament will put a lid on one of the greatest scandals in Indian history.”
Clearly for the BJP it is no longer a battle of words which it wants to fight in Parliament. For them it is now a political battle which will be fought in the streets and in the electoral arena with only one end in mind – the 2014 polls (that is if the polls are not held earlier.) The main Opposition realises that this is a God-send opportunity to reclaim the lost ground on the issue of corruption that it had been criticised of conceding to the civil society and the likes of Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdevs.
Also in the 2G spectrum allocation scam, the Congress had sought to come clean on the issue with the PM citing ‘compulsions of coalition politics’ and blaming DMK leader and the former telecom minister A Raja for acting alone.
But in this case, the coal ministry being under Manmohan Singh for a number of years when the allotments were made, for the BJP it’s about attacking where it hurts the most and unsettling no less than the Prime Minster. It is unlikely that the PM will oblige the Opposition by resigning at this juncture and the saffron party too knows that.
For them it is more about driving home the point in the minds of the common man that the Manmohan Singh government is corruption ridden with the PM’s clean image taking a beating this time and that the Congress-led UPA government is in a state of drift and inertia.
For the BJP this is also an opportunity to sway the allies of the UPA and make them nervous. The Gadkari-led party has been sending feelers to the three Ms – Mamata, Mulayam and Mayawati to join the din for PM’s resignation. If the UPA allies feel that the Congress is losing the battle of perception on the issue of corruption and no less than the PM is in the dock this time around, then they may have second thoughts on supporting a beleaguered government. However, for now, it seems a farfetched idea.
On the other hand, with no less than Congress president Sonia Gandhi exhorting her MPs not be ‘defensive’ on coalgate and match fire-for-fire, top leaders of the ruling party have been aggressively defending the government. While Finance Minister P Chidambaram argued that because the coal had not been mined, there had been no loss to the exchequer, the PM himself questioned the CAG’s findings saying that it was ‘disputable’ and ‘flawed’.
But the BJP has been denouncing every argument that the government has put forth fielding its top guns and a galaxy of leaders in front of the media. Jaitley pointed out that once the blocks were allotted the mining rights rest with the allottees and not the government and so the government has lost control over natural resources at give-away prices. On the other hand Sushma Swaraj in a bitter battle of words directly accused the Congress party of benefitting monetarily from the allocation of coal blocks saying that the party had got
‘mota maal’ in the process.
On the criticism that the BJP was being ‘obstructionist’ by not letting a debate take place on the contentious issue in the Parliament and not adhering to the principles of democracy, the BJP put forth this defence – “The country lost a valuable session of Parliament in December 2010 on the issue of 2G spectrum scam. However, the obstructionism led to A Raja’s resignation, chargesheets for criminal prosecutions, a Joint Parliamentary Committee, the auctioning of the 3G spectrum and now the surplus 2G spectrum which will bring an enormous amount of revenue back to the government.”
On the accusations that it was the BJP chief ministers of states like Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan which opposed the bidding of coal blocks, senior party leader Yashwant Sinha dared the government to initiate a CBI inquiry into the matter and punish them if they were guilty.
Post Script: Manmohan Singh in a state of exasperation may have resorted to poetry and stated to the eager journalist outside Parliament –
“Hazaron jawabo se achchi hai khamoshi meri, na jaane kitne sawalo ki aabru rakhe (My silence is better than a thousand answers; it keeps intact the honour of innumerable questions) – but a combative, aggressive and resurgent Bharitya Janata Party knows that the PM and his men will have to give answers where it matters the most – in the court of the people.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)