New Delhi: The PM used a massive gathering of his party today to end speculation on whether he's willing to face the heat on the 2G scam. "I will write to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee to say I will be happy to appear before it if they ask me to do so, even though there is no precedent to that affect," declared Dr Manmohan Singh.
For weeks, the Opposition has prodded him, stating that the Prime Minister doesn't want to be summoned to answer questions in connection with the Godzilla of all scams, the 2G scam. That's why, the Opposition has been saying, the government doesn't want to sanction a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the 2G conspiracy - one that cost India 1.76 lakh crores, according to the government's auditor.
"The PM like Caesar's wife, should be above suspicion," said Dr Singh, adding that he "has nothing to hide" during his speech at the Congress plenary session in Burari near Delhi.
So what the government is now offering the Opposition on the 2G scam is the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which can question the PM. Not good enough, retaliates the Opposition, which says it won't settle for less than a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).
The PAC is headed by BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, and has begun questioning bureaucrats and others associated with the controversial allocation of 2G in 2008, where licenses were allegedly given to new telecom companies at bargain basement prices. However, the Opposition states that the PAC's mandate is limited to the facts provided in the report on the 2G scam submitted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). But with thousands of crores at stake, the Opposition says that's not enough - a JPC has to be set up so it can extend the scope of inquiry.
It is that insistence on a JPC that led to a complete freeze between the government and Opposition in the winter session of parliament which finished earlier this month - with less than 10 hours of business transacted.
The Opposition may not be impressed by the PM's compromise formula, but his own party hailed it as a "master stroke." (Read and watch: PM's offer is 'Master Stroke', says Digvijaya)
Dr Singh was humble, stating "As Prime Minister of this great country for last six-and-a-half years, I may have made mistakes but I have tried to serve my country to the best of my ability."
He also stressed his government's commitment to integrity, warning that "nobody guilty will be spared - irrespective of which party he belongs to and how powerful he may be."
His remark that nobody would be spared in a thorough inquiry was a clear reference to former Telecom Minister A Raja, whose party, the DMK, is a crucial ally of the government's, and is reportedly not happy with the raids that have been conducted against some of the party's closest associates as the CBI tries to circle in on Raja.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) laid out in its report a seething inquest of the scam, showing how bureaucrats and Raja allegedly colluded to show undue favour companies that lied or misrepresented basic information in their applications for 2G licenses. The Supreme Court is now monitoring the CBI's inquiry.
The PM also took a shot at the BJP which has refused to sack Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa despite his being accused of a series of illegal land deals, brokered to benefit his family.
"Charges are being leveled against our party and our government. Our record has been questioned...it is being alleged that we are not sensitive to the issue of corruption. On this count...I wish to make our stand clear...we have asked Chief Ministers to step down merely on the basis of suspicion...we are not like some opposition parties that allow tainted Chief Ministers to stay in office."
The PM then vowed to implement the five-point agenda for fighting corruption laid out by Sonia Gandhi in her speech at the plenary session on Sunday. Among other measures, she advocated setting up a fast-track court to deal with public officials accused of corruption. She also said that she wants Congress ministers and chief ministers to surrender discretionary rights especially for land allocation.
On Sunday, Mrs Gandhi had delivered a spirited defense of the PM, praising him for "his wide leadership, for remaining calm amidst the storm...the party remains solidly with him," she said, stressing that the BJP's attack against him has been "despicable."
The PM has been a soft target for the Opposition this winter, as a series of scams bubbled up to the surface, exposing the relentless corruption that lay beneath the Adarsh Building Society, the Commonwealth Games, and the 2G scam.
The first saw the former chief minister of Maharashtra resigning after it was revealed that three of his relatives were among those who cornered discounted flats in a high-rise in Mumbai intended for war widows and defense veterans. The Commonwealth Games saw officials in charge of organizing the event abusing their rights and offices to award contracts to companies that grossly over-charged for the products and services they provided. But it's the third- the2G scam - that has assaulted the senses of a nation not unaccustomed to reports of governmental and political corruption.