Digvijaya Singh defends Sushilkumar Shinde over comment on coal scandal

New Delhi: Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh has defended Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde over his controversial comment on the coal scam. Mr Singh said that the union minister’s statement on the coal controversy has been taken out of context.

“See, you got Shinde wrong. The way false accusations were made on Bofors, false accusations are being made on the coal scam, that’s what he meant,” Mr Singh said yesterday.

Mr Shinde’s remark that the coal issue will soon fade away from public memory as it happened in the case of the Bofors controversy, has drawn flak from the opposition. While the BJP took a dig at the party, saying the coal scam will see the end of Congress’ rule at the Centre, the CPI said that the party should not take people of the country for granted.

At a function in Pune on Saturday, Mr Shinde had said, “Earlier, the Bofors was a talking point. People forgot about it. Now it is coal. This too will be forgotten. Once hands are washed off coal, they again become clean.” The union minister later said he was just joking.

Reacting to Mr Shinde’s remark, BJP leader Balbir Punj said, “It’s a different matter whether people have forgotten. Bofors or not but Congress has forgotten what Bofors had done to it. Since then, Congress has not got majority on its own.”

JD-U President Sharad Yadav, who described Mr Shinde as his ‘old friend’, did not hide his displeasure over the remarks, advising him to concentrate more on his ministry. “He has come to Delhi very recently. His importance is due to Congress party. Better he confines himself to speaking about Home Ministry. He should speak less on political issues,” Mr Yadav said.

The CPI also rejected Mr Shinde’s remarks. Party spokesperson D Raja said, “Mr Shinde should remember that he is the Home Minister. He should not take people for granted.”

Facing the ire of the opposition, Mr Shinde tried to downplay his statement today, by saying that he was only joking. “I had gone to attend the felicitation ceremony of a former schoolmate. He did not make anyone laugh so I thought let me add some humour to the function. At times it is good to joke but I was not aware that it would backfire on me. I was only joking,” he said.

Last month, a report by the national auditor or the CAG said private firms reaped windfall benefits of upto Rs. 1.86 lakh crore because of a poor coal policy implemented by the government, a conclusion aggressively refuted by the Prime Minister and his senior ministers. The inter-ministerial group on coal blocks, which is looking into the allegations that the government implemented a coal policy that provided windfall benefits to private players and cost the country thousands of crores, has recommended cancellation of seven coal blocks so far.

When asked if there is any possibility of mid-term polls against the backdrop of Opposition BJP staying firm on its demand for the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in connection with allocation of coal blocks, Mr Shinde replied in the negative.

He said he was hopeful of a solution to the logjam in Parliament. “UPA is strong and has the support of (SP chief) Mulayam Singh (Yadav),” he said.

On Centre’s decisions to allow Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail and civil aviation, Mr Shinde said “there was no other option in view of the global economic situation”.

He said hike in diesel prices was “inevitable”.

Replying to a query, Mr Shinde said UPA allies should be told about the reasons behind these policy decisions and the necessity of economic reforms.

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