SP dilemma: Will Cong sacrifice Durga Nagpal for food bill?

 SP dilemma: Will Cong sacrifice Durga Nagpal for food bill?

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The Congress has once again found itself in a catch-22 situation. Will it risk unpopularity and accede to the Samajwadi Party's brazen defence of its decision to suspend IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, or will it stand firm and risk losing a critical vote on the food security bill?

The Samajwadi Party, incensed by a letter written by Congress President Sonia Gandhi to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing concern over Nagpal's suspension had hit out at her, telling her to write two more letters about her son-in-law Robert Vadra.

Gandhi should write two more letters, one about the Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka who was suspended by the Chief Minister and another to the Rajasthan CM for suspending two IAS officers. In both the cases, the name of Robert Vadra, cropped up. These cases were related to land deals. So, she should write two more letters to PM so that justice is done in all these cases”, Aggarwal had said according to a report by PTI.

And now senior leader Naresh Aggarwal has said that the party will not support the food security bill in Parliament, although he insisted that Gandhi's letter had nothing to do with the decision. Speaking to the Times Now television channel however, Aggarwal said that the decision to suspend Nagpal was a state matter and not for the centre to interfere with.

The latest developments come amid increasingly high handed and flimsy reasoning by the Samajwadi Party led UP government to justify their decision to suspend Nagpal.

Shortly after Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said that Nagpal had been suspended in the interest of religious harmony because her decision to pull down an unauthorised mosque wall could have 'caused riots', the almost insultingly flimsy defence was contradicted by the Gautum Budh Nagar police in the area who insisted that there was no communal tension, and the district magistrate who has said she did no wrong.

Undaunted by the increasing outrage on Nagpal's behalf, senior SP leader Narendra Bhati was recorded at a rally in greater Noida, boasting of he 'got rid' of her in 40 minutes.

“I want to tell you, the lady who behaved in such an uncouth manner(behoodagi), could not stay for 40 minutes. Between 10:30 and 11:11 pm in a span of 41 minutes, her suspension order was typed in Lucknow and reached the Collector here, and that lady came to know at 11:11 pm that she had been suspended", he said.

The statement however was contextualised by this report in the Hindustan Times which said,

A Greater Noida official who knows how Nagpal’s actions were hurting Bhati have a different side of the story.   
A month back, she reportedly refused to entertain his request of not lodging an FIR against local leader Omendra Khari. Khari, said to be close to Bhati, had allegedly backed out after winning an auction of seized sand by authorities worth Rs. 8 crore.  
“Bhati planned this mosque plot, and trapped Nagpal,” said an official who did not want to be named. “He gave the money and told villagers there was no need to take permission to build a mosque. Once the villagers built the wall, someone complained to Nagpal, who acted in accordance with the law.”

The brazen behaviour of the Samajwadi Party may have worked for them at the state level, but it put the Congress Party, already battling with damaging perceptions that it actively supports corruption, in a position where it was left with no choice but to take a stand, rather than seen to be condoning the actions of the UP government. Initially the government said that it had called for a report into the matter but vowed not to be swayed by 'media hysteria and public opinion'.

But this stand hardened on Saturday with Sonia Gandhi's letter:

"There is widespread concern because the officer, in the course of her public duty, was seen to be standing upto vested interests engaging in illegal activity.

We must ensure that the officer is not unfairly treated. At the same time, this particular instance has highlighted the need to assess whether there are adequate safeguards in place to protect executive functionaries working beyond the average call of duty to uphold the law", it read. (Full text here)

It is very likely that despite the letter,  the Congress was hoping to come to some sort of amicable solution with the Samajwadi Party while distancing itself from its treatment of Nagpal. However with the Samajwadi Party's violent reaction, the Congress party finds itself in a bind.

Will it be forced to climb down from its stance and plead helplessness to help Nagpal, or will it be able to swing the numbers for the food security bill so that it can have its cake and eat it too?

Either way, the monsoon session of Parliament, which begins on Monday, promises high levels of political drama and excitement.

Updated Date: Aug 04, 2013 17:04:46 IST