Millennium Post

Congress in denial mode

The spectre of corruption has come back to haunt the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance [UPA] with the Comptroller and Auditor General [CAG] coming down heavily on the Centre for its flawed policies on coal blocks allocation, airport and power projects. Coming on the heels of the Commonwealth Games scam and the 2G Spectrum issue, ‘Coalgate’ has clearly hobbled the UPA government making its continuance in power untenable. The recent logjam in parliament with the Bhartiya Janata Party [BJP]-led opposition stalling all proceedings and baying for the prime minister’s resignation had been caused by the CAG report that the government’s coal block allocation had favoured certain private parties and caused a loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to the exchequer. This is another record breaking amount, after the loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore in the 2G spectrum scam. It is really shameful to witness so many corruption scams of epic proportions getting unravelled so frequently. What is more shocking is the manner in which the UPA is brazenly defending itself instead of pulling a stop to corruption. It was not very long ago that a senior union minister said the losses in 2G scam were notional and that there was no actual loss incurred by the government. The UPA must come out of its denial mode and admit its mistakes.

Indeed, same brazeness was evident in the ‘no loss’ argument given by senior ministers and Congress leaders regarding coal blocks allocation. That the UPA government has used the same ‘zero loss’ argument which it used in the 2G Spectrum case, in defending the coalgate is pathetic. In fact, Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s defence of coal allocation that no loss has been incurred because the coal is still unexploited is really amusing. Seriously, who is the finance minister trying to fool? Nobody in his right mind will buy this weird reasoning. The coal he is talking about does not belong to the country anymore. It has been given away to individuals. Does then Chidambaram plan to withdraw the licences awarded under the non-competitive bidding policy, as was done in the 2G case by the Supreme Court, and allocate them through competitive bidding? Because that is the only way he can convince the nation of his presumptive ‘zero loss’ theory.

Going by Chidambaram’s bizarre argument, the general view is that the government is trying to dodge accountability. In fact, its defence of the allocation is full of holes and contradictory. That said, Sonia Gandhi’s declaration of war on the BJP, egged on by the UPA coterie, shows one thing for certain. That the party is seeking its escape by leveling counter allegations to castigate the opposition. No government can afford to be autocratic and stamp out dissent any longer. The UPA chairperson knows that  a string of scams have put her and the Congress on the back foot, but she is still shadow boxing with the BJP. The Congress appears to have embarked on the path of counter aggression without making any effort to win back public trust. The media has blamed the BJP for paralysing the parliament over the damming report. But no one seems to understand that the BJP did not invent the coal scam. Also, it is not the opposition’s fault that it was exposed by the CAG. Instead of blaming the BJP the Congress would have done well to hold talks with the opposition to ensure that the entire session was not a washout.

In the din of the denials and defences of CAG’s methods of computing losses, we must not overlook the basic question of government inefficiency, arbitrariness and violation of the principle of transparency and accountability. The prime minister’s confusing reply in parliament that his government’s policy of allocating coal blocks is far from convincing. It has become a ritual with the Congress leaders to attack others to defend themselves. And Singh is no exception. He appeared to blame the BJP ruled states for his government’s policy.

What he has conveniently forgotten to say is that Congress ruled states like Maharashtra were also initially opposed to auctioning and all the states subsequently agreed to the procedure. Likewise, he has failed to explain why the coal ministry was in a hurry to allocate the blocks when the policy was yet to be finalised. His argument that any delay in allocation would have hampered development does not hold any water.

Apart for blaming the opposition, the scam ridden UPA II is out to gag the CAG. Infact, people were surprised when the PM pointed out that the CAG’s computation of losses was flawed and misleading. The government‘s strategy of sustaining its bellicose stance is neither politically prudent nor morally defensible. Singh is morally responsible for the loss to the exchequer. He cannot hide under the pretext of blaming the state government’s saying that they were against competitive bidding. His statement is not a good enough response to the controversy surrounding his government. He must respect the views of the opposition and not belittle them. Inarguably, it is the Congress that needs to come clean on the issue as the supremo of the nation, the buck stops with the PM. If only the governemnt  were ready to come out of its denial mode, it would not have seemed to be in a hurry indegence of its policies or crude in its attack on the opposition.

It has also to be pointed out that by stalling parliament, the BJP has projected itself as an irresponsible party. Going full throttle on corruption, the leading party of the opposition is using the CAG report to try and embarrass the UPA. That is why instead of using the Parliament as a platform to grill and expose the government on its failings, the party revels in obstructionist tactics to deflect all attention from the chinks in its armour. Its leaders do not seem to be interested in a meaningful debate in the House. By refusing to let the PM clarify the issue, the BJP either wants to help the government get out of the crisis or is apprehensive of exposing some skeletons in its own cupboard.

The magnitude of coalgate is enormous. But the principal opposition has failed to expose the government through the most effective and proper platform available to it. It is evident that the BJP is no longer interested in functioning democratically. Stalling the parliament is no substitute. Ever since the CAG submitted its report in the coal blocks allocation, the BJP has remained adamant on the PM’s resignation.

This stand has seen many precious days of parliament, which could have offered scope for some meaningful discussion, go waste. The reports on the 2G Scam and coal block allocation have not been discussed at all. They have only been used to obstruct parliament, to fill newspaper columns and dominate news on television channels. One wonders why the BJP develops cold feet when it comes to discussing a scam in parliament. Could the party be avoiding it because the states ruled by it are also mired in corruption?

It is true that in a democratic system, the opposition has a major role to play. But the manner in which our honorable MPs are handling the proceedings in both houses is a matter of shame. Political parties often resort to shouting at each other on the floor of the parliament instead of conducting a coherent debate on policy issues. Repeated adjournments and suspension of legislative business have become the order of the day. The lack of healthy debate is lowering the common man’s faith in elected representatives. It is indeed sad that three bills were passed in parliament without any debate. Does it suit the government to let parliament be stalled?

It is time the parties stopped fooling the public and appreciated the intelligence of the common man.

Sunita Vakil is a Delhi-based senior journalist.
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