Coal-gate: BJP toughens stand; PM to make statement today

New Delhi: With an unrelenting Opposition refusing to let up on the pressure over the government in the alleged coal scam, Parliament looks set to witness another stormy day. With proceedings paralysed all of last week owing to the furore over what is now being called as the Coal-gate, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will make a statement on the issue today with his government hoping to buy peace with the Opposition. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), though, which is leading the charge against the government, has further toughened its stand, reiterating that nothing short of the Prime Minister’s resignation will do.

Calling the government “arrogant and despotic”, senior party leader and Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had, on Sunday, said that the onus lay on the Prime Minister to accept the responsibility for the “arbitrary and discretionary” allocation of 142 coal blocks.

The adamant position adopted by the Opposition should worry the government as the Prime Minister is all set to leave for Iran on Tuesday for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit. If his statement today – it’s not clear whether he will do so in the floor of the House or outside – does not satisfy the BJP, which strongly appears to be the case, the prospect of a complete washout of the Monsoon session looks real. The session ends on September 8.

Earlier, there were reports that the Prime Minister may call Opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitely for a meeting or even convene an all-party meeting to break the logjam in Parliament. Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, too, has called for an all-party meeting today to find a solution to the continuing impasse.

But what could further add to the Congress-led UPA government’s misery is the fact that several parties, which had earlier favoured a debate in Parliament over the coal scam in variance with the BJP, are slowly coming on board with the latter’s stand. The BJP has managed to convince its ally, the JD(U) over a prolonged disruption in Parliament and is also trying to reach out to all opposition parties to garner consensus over the matter. It is also is trying to split the UPA’s numbers by inviting the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party and the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party for a meeting that it has called today to discuss the strategy over scam. It’s not clear, though, whether Mr Yadav or Ms Mayawati will attend.

On Saturday, Mr Jaitley unleashed a vitriolic attack on the Congress, alleging that the party received political funding from coal allocation. 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.

“If the process of allocation by the Prime Minister as a Coal Minister smacks of arbitrariness it shakes our national conscience. The onus is now on the Prime Minister to accept the responsibility for what has happened,” said Mr Jaitley.

So far the BJP has 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.”

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