Kolkata: When the Prime Minister offered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) probing the 2G spectrum scam, some in the Congress described it as a masterstroke. But today one of the Congress's most senior leaders, Pranab Mukherjee said he would not have advised the prime minister to go this extra mile.
"The PM announced on his own, without consulting any of us first that he would appear before the PAC. Had he consulted with me, I would have told him not to because I am conservative," Pranab Mukerjee said addressing Congressmen in Kolkata today.
"Why don't ministers appear before Parliamentary Committees? The reason is simple. A minister is accountable to the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha, to the 543 members of Lok Sabha. A minister has reached his position thanks to his party, Out of those 543 members, 272 of them back their party, back their Prime Minister. He is accountable to the whole House, not just a section of it," he added. (Read: Dispel air of despondency, says PM in new year message)
Later in the day, as reports of his statement appeared in the media, Mukherjee was quick deny that he differed with the Prime Minister. "It is wrong to state that there have been differences of opinion between me and the PM on his offer to appear before the PAC. I have said though Prime Minister had offered to appear before PAC, I would not have done so. I had also given an example that ministers did not appear before any parliamentary committee. This is because the parliamentary committees are part, while Parliament is the whole," he said.
(Read: Pranab Mukerjee denies rift with the PM)
Mukherjee also slammed the Opposition over its demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the 2G spectrum scam. "I have never seen Parliament being stalled the way Opposition did. It is wrong to say government has failed to act against corruption. We have already ordered a probe into the scam," he said.
Through the Winter Session of Parliament, the stand-off between the Opposition and the government over a JPC ensured that the entire session virtually saw no business being conducted. As a compromise, the Prime Minister offered to appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which is studying the 2G spectrum scam as reported by the government's auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). (Read: Speaker fails to break deadlock)
The Prime Minister stressed that this is an unprecedented offer. The BJP responded that it didn't want the Prime Minister to break the tradition, and that it's not going to budge from its JPC war cry. Reiterating that stand, BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad today said, "What is the hidden hand that is delaying the constitution of JPC? May be they have something to hide." (Read: NDA leaders meet, stick to JPC demand)
The CPI's National Secretary D Raja slammed Pranab Mukerjee's statement today contending that the Prime Minister's offer was made at a session of the AICC and not the Parliament. "The PM made that offer in the AICC session which was held very recently so is it the Congress party's stand or is the PM taking a different stand from the Congress party? Or is Mr Pranab Mukhrjee is saying a different thing from what the PM has said? I don't know. It is for them to explain to the country and people," Raja said.
The government has maintained that several agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) are detailing how the 2G scam was executed. A Raja as Telecom Minister is accused of under-valuing 2G spectrum to favour companies who applied for mobile licenses in 2008. The government's auditor said in November that Raja cost the government upto Rs. 1.76 lakh crore. That sealed Raja's fate, forcing him to resign from the Cabinet.
The CBI has since raided the homes of A Raja and his associates. It is also studying the phone conversations between PR executive Niira Radia and politicians and industrialists to determine whether Radia lobbied for her clients to win 2G licenses, and influenced the government to reinduct Raja as Telecom Minister after the UPA won the general elections in 2009.
The government points to these lines of inquiry as proof that a JPC is not needed. Constituting this new committee, made up of different parties, would only slow down the 2G investigation, argue its critics, most of who are part of the government.
The PM's offer to answer questions posed by the PAC was prompted by suggestions that the government doesn't want to set up a JPC because it will have the power to summon the Prime Minister and his colleagues.