Home India Politics BJP, Congress slugfest over PM remarks

BJP, Congress slugfest over PM remarks


New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s defence of Home Minister P. Chidambaram over the raging 2G spectrum scandal has triggered another slugfest between the Congress and an aggressive BJP.

A day after Manmohan Singh accused the opposition of trying to force early elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party hit back Wednesday with an attack on both the prime minister and Chidambaram.

The Congress promptly responded without mercy, heightening tensions over an issue that has fuelled speculation of a divide within the government — between Chidambaran and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

At the heart of the row is a note from the finance ministry that suggests that the 2008 spectrum scam could have been avoided if only Chidambaram, as the then finance minister, had opted for the auction route.

With Chidambaram not commenting on the note and Mukherjee not saying much, Congress sources said the finance minister had written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi explaining how and why the controversial note went from his ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office.

This was in March this year. But the note got leaked only now.

BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley took on the government, accusing the prime minister of “living in denials” and said the Congress-led ruling alliance was cracking up on its own.

Pointing out that both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi had May 22 vowed to fight corruption, Sushma Swaraj asked: “How did the policy of fighting corruption become a policy of saving corrupt ministers?”

The spectrum scandal has landed disgraced communication minister A. Raja in jail along with other politicians and company executives. The BJP says Chidambaram should not be treated differently.

Sushma Swaraj, who heads the opposition in the Lok Sabha, insisted that “para after para” of the finance ministry note proved that Chidambaram, as then finance minister, was aware of spectrum pricing and policies.

Both Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley denied the prime minister’s charge that the opposition was trying to force early elections.

“If there will be an early election, it will be because of their doing, not because of our asking,” said Sushma Swaraj.

He said the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was facing a “crisis of leadership, crisis of credibility”.

Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi sought to downplay the note, saying it does not increase or decrease anyone’s guilt.

Singhvi said “whatever was criminally liable (in 2G allocation) was over in 2008” and had been examined by court.

He said the BJP was trying to create “an ambience of uncertainty”, echoing the prime minister’s charge Tuesday.

Slamming the BJP for comparing Chidambaram with the jailed Raja, Singhvi said the DMK leader faces charges of changing dates in respect of spectrum allocation.

Officials in North Block said Mukherjee’s letter was a chronology of events on the pricing and allocation of spectrum.

Informed sources said Chidambaram was present at the prime minister’s residence Wednesday when he hosted lunch for former British prime minister Tony Blair.