Coal controversy: Won’t resign, BJP should wait till 2014, says PM

New Delhi: The Prime Minister has said there is no question of resigning over the alleged “coal-gate” affair. “If I were resigning, I would not be here,” he said on his plane back from Tehran, referring to the fact that he represented India at Iran’s summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The PM said he will not respond to the BJP’s demand for his resignation, or to its scathing criticism of his alleged link to the coal controversy. “I have to maintain the dignity of the office of the Prime Minister,” he said, adding that “we have been elected by the people of India…I hope the BJP will respect verdict of the people.”

The national auditor said recently that thousands of crores were lost because coal blocks were sold at a fraction of their true market value.  The BJP says this was done on the PM’s watch and he is therefore obliged to exit office.  Till that happens, the party has said, it will not allow Parliament to function – for eight days, the BJP has disrupted both Houses, forcing adjournments every day. Today, it dismissed the PM’s defence. “The buck stops at the PM’s table,” said the party’s Balbir Punj. Referring to Dr Manmohan Singh’s criticism of the BJP’s tactics in Parliament, “If you are going to stonewall all queries, that means you have very little respect for the people of the country,” Mr Punj said.

This morning, Mulayam Singh Yadav led a protest at Parliament, demanding an immediate end to the paralysis of both Houses, and asking for a Supreme Court judge to supervise an investigation into “coal-gate.”  Sources in the government say that it is considering whether a judge should review the allocation of coal blocks to private firms. The manner in which those coal fields were assigned between 2004 and 2009 led to windfall benefits of upto 1.86 lakh crores, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).

Law Minister Salman Khurshid indicated that the government may not be entirely opposed to Mr Yadav’s suggestion. He said requesting a judicial investigation “can only be decided at the highest level – that of the PM” but added “I am not sure that even if the government accepts it… whether the proposal will be accepted at the Supreme Court.”

Mr Yadav, seen as a friend of the UPA who bails it out of tight spots, has this time added to its headache with his latest alignment of non-BJP, non-Congress parties. That’s led to new speculation about whether he is piecing together a Third Front to challenge both the BJP and the Congress. Privately, sources in Mr Yadav’s party and the Congress say that by calling for Parliament to get back to work, Mr Yadav has isolated the BJP, which has refused to reconsider its strategy on disrupting Parliament. “The BJP is riding a tiger and doesn’t know how to get off… if somebody helps them do that, it’s welcome,” said Mr Khurshid.

The BJP says it is not happy at having to disrupt Parliament, admits it cannot do so “as a policy” on every issue, but stoutly justifies its actions on the coal block allocation issue. Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley told NDTV, “If by sacrificing one session of Parliament the telecom set up can be cleaned up, it is a small price to pay.” Part of the BJP’s demand is that the coal block allocations be cancelled.

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