Published August 28, 2012 | 9:57 am
New Delhi: The war over ‘coalgate’ escalated Tuesday with the BJP refusing to give up its demand for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ouster and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi charging the BJP with blackmail.
With Congress and BJP leaders taking on each other, the BJP’s adamant refusal to let parliament function until Manmohan Singh bowed out crippled both houses for the sixth straight day.
A day after the BJP accused the Congress of taking kickbacks by giving away coal blocks to private parties, Gandhi jumped into the fray and asked her MPs to aggressively fight the “intemperate Congress bashing”.
“The proper forum for (a debate) is an active and involved parliament, not one that is held to ransom by blackmail, which has become the bread and butter of the BJP, much to the concern of some of its allies,” she said at a meeting of her MPs.
With Gandhi setting the tone, her Congress colleagues took on the BJP aggressively. Manmohan Singh, who spoke on the subject for the first time Monday, meanwhile left for Iran to attend the NAM summit.
An unexpected attack on the Congress Tuesday came from the Samajwadi Party, which said the parliamentary logam was probably aimed at replacing Manmohan Singh as prime minister by Rahul Gandhi.
“It is possible that some people in the Congress want to replace Manmohan Singh with Yuvraj (Rahul Gandhi). Is internal politics of the Congress not coming into play?” Samajwadi MP Mohan Singh told IANS.
The CPI-M’s Sitaram Yechury accused both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party of “match fixing” — a suggestion that the two were in league over parliament’s paralysis.
The political crisis was triggered by a report of official auditor CAG alleging that the allocation of coal blocks mainly to private players without auction had caused huge losses to the exchequer.
The government and the Congress have denied the charge.
Manmohan Singh Monday called the CAG report flawed. But a Comptroller and Auditor General official Tuesday said they stood by the report and would respond “at the appropriate time”.
The BJP’s insistence on not letting parliament function till Manmohan Singh goes doesn’t have the support of at least one of its allies and some others in the opposition. But the BJP refuses to change course.
Gandhi told her MPs that after the prime minister’s elaborate statement, there was no need for the Congress to be defensive.
“We are now entering a period in which elections will consume much of our time,” she said of the upcoming state elections.
“We will not be deflected by intemperate Congress bashing by the opposition. Let us stand up and fight, fight with a sense of purpose and fight aggressively,” she said.
She accused the BJP of showing scant respect for democratic values and for mocking the people of India “for the convincing mandate given to us”.
The BJP remained unrelenting.
Responding to Gandhi’s charge of “blackmail”, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said: “A government whose integrity has been painted black in the coal deals cannot be blackmailed.”
BJP chief spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad added: “We don’t need certificates of responsibility from the Congress. We want conduct of accountability from the government.”
The prime minister had said that some of the non-Congress chief ministers too had favoured discretionary allocation of coal blocks.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla underlined the point: “They (BJP) are running away from a debate. They are trying to save their chief ministers (from being exposed in parliament).”
On Tuesday, the alleged irregularities in coal block allocation held up both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, leading to their adjournment for the day after recess.
The CAG has estimated a presumptive loss of Rs.1.86 lakh crore ($37 billion) because of the coal blocks allocation between 2004 and this year.
Meanwhile, industry lobby Assocham said the political crisis was creating an environment of suspicion and distrust in the country.
“Assocham appeals to all stakeholders to desist from putting emotions over discretion in national interest,” it said.