PAC DID NOT LOSE THE OPPORTUNITY, CALLED SPADE, A SPADE

Note:Apropos "BJP's lost opportunity", Business Standard, instead of appreciating the fact that stark facts were made starker for the benefit of the public, strangely A K Bhattacharya (AKB) is quite blatantly suggesting that veteran opposition MP and Chairman of Public Accounts Committee (PAC) should have diluted its report to provide some face saving space to Congress and DMK (besides SP and BSP). It is amusing to note that he has endorsed mild words used in ruling party MP headed Joint Parliamentary Committee’s report on the securities scam wherein Dr Manmohan Singh was termed a “sleeping finance minister”.

It is such mildness in the manner of Parliamentary Committees that allowed P Chidambaram and Dr Singh yet again to sleep over their acts of omission and commission. One reads AKB quite avidly but one cannot agree with AKB at all in this matter. The facts are quite glaring PAC DID NOT LOSE THE OPPORTUNITY, IT SERVED ITS PURPOSE, IT TERMED SPADE, A SPADE. It was not about BJP be or Congress losing. The public and the democracy in India gained. PAC Chairman outwitted the partisan and un-parliamentary role played Rajya Sabha MP, Prof. Saifuddin Soz led group of MPs from Congress, DMK, SP and BSP.

Isn't PAC always led by a member from Lok Sabha?

Isn't it a established rule that once the Speaker, Lok Sabha or Chairman, Rajya Sabha has adjourned the house, no proceedings in the house can be deemed to have occurred after that? Once the PAC meeting was adjourned, whatever happened (caused by the nervousness of those named in the PAC report) does not form part of PAC proceedings and thus the PAC report?

Gopal Krishna

BJP's lost opportunity
A K Bhattacharya, Business Standard
It is difficult to say who is the bigger loser in last week’s unseemly battle over the 2G scam report of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) — the Bharatiya Janata Party and particularly its leader Murli Manohar Joshi or the Congress leadership.

To begin with, Mr Joshi failed to act as a responsible chairperson of a Parliamentary committee. As someone heading the PAC, he had sufficient advance information that the Congress members were opposed to the contents of the draft report. Yet, he went ahead with its circulation. In all Parliamentary committees, where consensus is the preferred method to adopt reports, it is the chairperson’s primary responsibility to ensure that all members endorse the report’s findings, and if necessary, after suitable amendments and modifications.

Mr Joshi failed to get that organised. One of the reasons could be that he was in a hurry as the tenure of the committee was to end by April 30. However, that does not absolve him from the charge that he failed to get a consensus on the report. Worse, he allowed his secretariat to circulate the draft report among the members before ensuring such a consensus. That decision also meant that the contents of the draft report, otherwise treated as confidential, became public through leaks to the media.

It is true that with such a media exposure Mr Joshi and the BJP leadership did appear to have scored a political point against the Congress. The leaked report brought out embarrassing details of how the prime minister tried to distance his office from the controversial decisions his communications minister was taking to award phone licences and spectrum and how different arms of the government failed to prevent the telecom scam. Indeed, the report was instrumental in temporarily uniting the different factions within the BJP leadership.

However, in that excitement, the BJP leaders lost sight of the long-term political gain they would have made if they could have convinced the Congress members to agree to even a diluted version of the draft report. After all, they had access to several documents, which after their inclusion in the report would have become a major political embarrassment for the Congress. Such embarrassment would have been damaging even if Mr Joshi had agreed to modify some of the observations the draft report had made. The important thing for Mr Joshi was to get the Congress members agree to the report even with diluted comments, but with all the relevant documents as annexes.

What happened instead was an ugly confrontation between members of the BJP and Congress including its alliance partners at the meeting to consider the draft PAC report. Mr Joshi adjourned the meeting and stormed out of the room. Once Mr Joshi and the BJP members were out of the room, the Congress leaders present at the meeting decided to reject the draft report. The stalemate continued and after some thought Mr Joshi decided to present the same draft report to the Lok Sabha Speaker on the last day of the PAC’s term.

For the Congress, too, the behaviour of its leaders was counterproductive. It was clear for all to see that the Congress members of the PAC were using all tricks in the book to thwart the finalisation of that report. Such behaviour did not enhance their credibility. Instead, it only confirmed the party’s ambivalent approach to dealing with corruption in public life.

In the final analysis, the stalemate over the PAC report shows that the BJP may be a bigger loser than the Congress. The Congress leaders failed to rise to the occasion and break the deadlock. They were somehow trying to obstruct the acceptance of the report. That the PAC’s term was ending on April 30 helped their cause. However, if the BJP had agreed to take on board the Congress leaders’ objections to the observations and conclusions of the draft report of the Committee, the outcome could have been different. That would have exposed the Congress strategy.

Remember what happened with the Joint Parliamentary Committee’s report on the securities scam in the 1990s. The draft report had made some critical remarks against Manmohan Singh, who was then the finance minister. The Congress was furious with those comments that attacked Dr Singh for his inaction to prevent the securities scam. What did the Opposition members of that committee, headed by Ram Niwas Mirdha, do? They held a series of meetings with the Congress members and agreed to dilute the observations that suggested that Dr Singh was a “sleeping finance minister” while the scam took place. The dilution was accepted, but the findings of that committee with documentary evidence were such that Dr Singh had to offer his resignation, which of course was not accepted.

Did the BJP then lose an opportunity last week?

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