After a cacophonous BJP paralysed Parliament for the third day in a row, demanding the Prime Minister's resignation over what is being called "Coal-gate", Congress president Sonia Gandhi sent out a tough message to her MPs saying, don't be defensive, attack.
The Leader of the Lok Sabha Sushil Kumar Shinde is, meanwhile, making every effort to ensure more Parliament time is not wasted. Mr Shinde, who is also the home minister, met Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj of the BJP this afternoon and later said that he hoped a solution would be found when Parliament resumed on Monday.
So far the BJP has said it will accept nothing less than the resignation of Dr Manmohan Singh for allegedly allowing private firms to gain thousands of crores because they were sold hugely under-priced coal fields. It has rejected the Congress-led government's offer that the PM will make a statement on the matter, which can also be debated on the floor of Parliament. The BJP has said it will not allow Parliament to get to work till Dr Singh accepts responsibility for "Coal-Gate" and quits, a possibility shot down by the ruling Congress as "preposterous."
Each hour of Parliament in session costs Rs 25 lakh. So over the last two days, two crores have been wasted.
Today, both Houses were adjourned within minutes and sources said Sonia Gandhi had a clear message for her party. Sources quoted her as saying, "We don't need to be defensive. It is wrong. We must attack. They (the BJP) cannot take people for granted."
Congress ally Mamata Banerjee, who is in Delhi, has suggested an all-party meeting to find sort out differences. She said that in the democratic process that Parliament functioning was, "the Opposition has full right to raise issues," but also said that "there should be a full debate on it." Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari has met with representatives of different parties, where some leaders suggested that the Prime Minister meet the Leader of the Opposition from both the Houses. That meeting was inconclusive. Speaker Meira Kumar is expected to hold an all-party session shortly for the Lok Sabha.
The coal controversy is pivoted on a report by the national auditor which said that private players got 'windfall gains' of upto 1.86 lakh crores between 2005 and 2009 because they were not made to bid for coal fields. Instead, they were allotted coal fields at a fraction of their value. Because the PM was Coal Minister for a part of this period, the BJP says the alleged swindle - being investigated now by the CBI - took place on his watch.
The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has been described as faulty by the government and has been seized by the opposition as evidence of the government's alleged ineptitude and tolerance of corruption.
"We believe we have a compelling case," said Law Minister Salman Khurshid, faulting the BJP for not allowing a debate.The government says that the BJP knows it is on shaky moral ground - in 2005, when the government suggested that using an auction to assign coal fields would increase transparency, several states governed by the BJP objected on record.
The government has said that at the time, the state-run Coal India Limited was not able to meet the demands of a growing economy. The law at the time did not allow for coal fields to be auctioned. Creating consensus among political parties and other stake-holders, and then introducing new administrative and legal guidelines, would take time. So a screening committee with representatives of state governments assigned the coal fields to different firms. The national auditor has said that there appears to be no clear record of how recipients were chosen; it finds that the allocations were made largely on the basis of recommendations by state governments.