Protesting the exclusion of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from the Congress witness list, five BJP members walked out of the 2G spectrum Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting earlier today. The meeting reached a deadlock over the list of witnesses, as BJP members had enlisted both Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram, and the Congress would have none of it. The CBI Director was the last witness, from their common list, in July last week.
To counter the BJP, 11 of the 30 JPC members from the Congress wanted to include the names of Arun Shourie, Jaswant Singh and even Atal Behari Vajpayee in their list of witnesses. But the BJP is clearly in no mood to budge over Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram.
The camps are drawn in the 30-member JPC. The Left too has refused to compromise over the names of Manmohan Singh and Home Minister P Chidambaram. JPC’s chairman P C Chacko today presented an exhaustive list of witnesses proposed by the committee’s members. The list also includes names of TKA Nair, PM’s former personal secretary, and Pulok Chatterjee, present principal secretary (then private secretary).
The stalemate over the list of witnesses will cause more commotion in Parliament, as both the houses are already paralysed over the CAG’s report on Captive Coal Blocks.
Last month, when CBI Director A P Singh appeared before the JPC, BJP MP Yashwant Sinha apparently showed the CBI Director a note dated 23 January 2008, in which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had asked his office (the PMO) “to be at arm’s length” and hold ‘no formal communication’ (over 2G spectrum issue), after former telecom minister and prime accused A Raja had allocated 122 telecom licences.
“Did the CBI examine this note during the 2G spectrum investigations,” Yashwant Sinha had reportedly asked A P Singh? And the CBI Director apparently replied that the CBI did not examine this note ‘during the investigations’, as the need did not arise. A P Singh insisted that the CBI’s mandate was to locate ‘criminal intent’ in the distribution of 2G spectrum. The CBI had no business to interfere in the policy matters or how the government handled the issue, A P Singh reportedly told the JPC.
Another BJP MP Ravi Shankar Prasad has focused on P Chidambaram as Finance Minister in the 2G spectrum. And CPI’s Gurudas Gupta was vocal about why the CBI spared Tata in the 2G spectrum scam, sources said.
Congress MPs and members of the JPC, contended that the BJP is drawing political mileage by raising the names of Manmohan Singh and P Chidambaram. Manish Tewari had asked A P Singh how the CBI arrived at the calculation of losses in allocation of 2G spectrum, when the government’s policy was ‘first cum first serve basis’ in distribution of telecom licences. Shashi Tharoor had not stayed for long and had left the JPC meeting midway. Other JPC members, like Satish Chandra Mishra of the BSP, were not so vocal during their session with the CBI Director.
Three months of the Parliament’s winter session were lost in the fight over setting up a JPC over the 2G spectrum scam. Manmohan Singh-led NDA government had finally given in to the Opposition’s demand and had set up the JPC, which was to present its report within six months and later its tenure was extended till December this year. Only the investigating agencies and the government officials of the telecom ministry have been examined so far.
Since 19 June, the stalemate has hit JPC, with no agreement on the list of witnesses. On June 26, the committee again discussed the list, but in the absence of any consensus, P C Chacko decided to present a common, exhaustive list of witnesses, by first week of August. Since then secret efforts have been made to bring consensus, however, they have failed.