It's war in the joint parliamentary committee or JPC that dissected the telecom or 2G scam. Opposition members have said they have no confidence in Congressman PC Chacko as its chairman and want his removal. The Congress has hit back demanding the removal of three of the BJP's six members - Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Ravi Shankar Prasad for what it calls "conflict of interest."
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14 Opposition members of the 30-member committee met Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar today and handed letters requesting Mr Chacko's removal. A Janata Dal (United) member will meet the Speaker separately, making it 15 members against Mr Chacko. The Opposition says it rejects a report prepared by Mr Chacko on behalf of the committee that absolves the Prime Minister and Finance Minister P Chidambaram of any responsibility for one of India's largest financial scandals. (Read letter)
An unfazed Mr Chacko has said there is no provision to remove the sitting chairman of a JPC. "I will continue as JPC chief," he said, adding he would await instructions from the Speaker. He also said he would convene a meeting of the JPC soon. The panel was meant to have met today but the session was cancelled because of the death of a parliamentarian.
Within hours of the Opposition move against Mr Chacko today, the ruling Congress retaliated by submitting a memorandum to the Speaker saying that the BJP's Mr Singh, Mr Sinha and Mr Prasad should be removed from the JPC as "in their capacity as Chairman/ Members of GoMs/GoT/GoT-IT and as Union Ministers, these members were instrumental in taking major decisions relating to the telecom sector that are being investigated into by the JPC as its terms of reference is spread over the period from 1998 to 2009." (Read letter)
Yashwant Sinha reacted, "the Congress is asking for war, so be it." He said the Lok Sabha Speaker had settled the issue of conflict of interest two years ago when, after the first meeting of the JPC, objections to the BJP leaders being on the panel were raised. She had said, he quoted from a report, that any objections should have have been raised when they were elected to the panel.
It is all down to numbers if Mr Chacko's contentious draft report is voted upon in the JPC. The BJP-led Opposition has said that if no-confidence proceedings are on against Mr Chacko, he should not be allowed to exercise his casting vote if there is a tie. The chairman of the JPC has a vote and a casting or deciding vote.
The Congress, in the danger of being in minority in the House committee, once again finds itself heavily dependent on Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party. (Read) The SP held out hope today, with its member in the JPC Shailendra Kumar saying this evening that while his party opposes Mr Chacko's draft report, it is not against the chairman himself. The SP is not party to the move to seek Mr Chacko's removal. Neither is Mayawati's BSP.
The Congress has 11 members in the JPC. It is counting on two members from the BSP, one member each from the SP and ally NCP to have 15 members of the JPC on its side to see the report push through if it is voted on; and the casting vote of Mr Chacko. On the other side are six members of the BJP, two of the Left, two of the JD-U, two DMK members and the sole members of the BJD, AIADMK and Trinamool Congress.
Mr Chacko's controversial report says that in 2008, Telecom Minister A Raja "misled" the Prime Minister and manipulated a first-come-first-serve policy to push ineligible companies to the top of a long line of applicants for mobile network licenses and second-generation or 2G airwaves.
The opposition blames Mr Chacko for leaking the report last week to the media and accuses him of being "partisan" and using the report to "subvert and cover the truth." They also fault him for rejecting many requests from Mr Raja to testify for the committee.
Because he was disallowed from deposing, Mr Raja has sent a 40-page note explaining his actions to the committee. He says he kept the PM updated in person and in notes on his policies. The Opposition, ranging from the BJP to the Left , says that Mr Raja must be allowed to present his version of events to the panel. The DMK, Mr Raja's party, is standing by him.