Not long ago, the Congress loved senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi as head of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. So much so Prime Minister Manmohan Singh didn’t mind even offering to go before Joshi’s panel.
Joshi had then refused to slow down his mission to probe the 2G telecom scam as sought by the BJP so as to enable the Opposition press for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to do the same job.
As his public pronouncements embarrassed his party, the BJP, Joshi became a darling of the Congress. Till, at least BJP chief Nitin Gadkari deputed a party functionary to talk to Joshi to “request” him to soften and let a JPC come up. In turn, he was given a word that he would be re-nominated by the BJP to head the PAC for the next year too.
Joshi agreed not to speak publicly against the BJP’s line pressing for a JPC while continuing to summon officials, telecom companies heads and even lobbyist Nira Radi, who figured in the infamous tapes involving ex-Telecom Minister A Raja and Rattan Tata and top journalists.
Once the government conceded the Opposition’s demand for a JPC to ensure passage of the budget in Parliament, Joshi refused to budge from his stand that his PAC would complete its work of investigating the 2G spectrum scam.
It was then left to Congress leader P C Chacko, as head of the newly set up JPC, to remind Joshi that PAC and JPC could not investigate the same thing and that the PAC’s job was restrict itself to the audit findings.
Joshi stubbornly told Chacko to not teach him the roles of PAC and JPC, and the matter went to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar. She, however, refused to intervene, saying that they must “sort” it out themselves.
The Congress and the government by then realised that the work of the PAC could be damaging and decided that it must be stopped “at any cost.” They were not worried about the JPC, which they thought, in any case, would never take off because Congress members would guard the party’s interests.
When the PAC began to move at a feverish pace, the Congress and DMK members first prevented deposition of Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati, Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar and PM’s principal secretary TKA Nair and then insisted that the PAC probe would be incomplete unless all those nabbed by the CBI are also interrogated.
The DMK, however, had own misgivings when the Congress members last week pressed for summoning Raja on the ground that he is the main “hero” of the whole scandal and the PAC probe would remain incomplete without probing him.
Joshi, however, rejected the demand on the ground that the PAC was left with no time to summon anybody and particularly Raja who is in the judicial custody and will take long time to get him before the committee.
With the PAC’s tenure to end on May 5, Joshi thought he would write out the draft, knowing well that the Congress would play spoilsport. As he circulated his draft to 21 members of the PAC, it got leaked no time and all hell broke loose for the government.
Appearing to be soft on the Prime Minister, Joshi’s voluminous draft report had some unpleasant words for Dr Manmohan Singh, saying he had kept his office at “arm’s length” in the 2G case and, thereby, helped A Raja to execute his “unfair, arbitrary and dubious designs.”
Joshi said the PMO certainly either failed to see the “forebodings or was rendered a mute spectator.”
More than the Prime Minister, Home Minister P Chidambaram faced acute embarrassment. He called journalists close to him to say that if he had to be criticised then he should have been called by the PAC or at least issued a questionnaire but not criticised ex-parte.
Joshi’s draft report blamed Chidambaram for his role as then Finance Minister, particularly for recommending to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to “treat the matter as closed” instead of taking action against those responsible for loss to the exchequer in the allocation of spectrum. Chidambaram wanted to know when, where and to whom he had made such a plea.
He said he had only referred to spectrum entry fee and not about spectrum charges, adding that “Joshi does not know the difference between the entry fee, spectrum usage charges and revenue share at license fee.” (end)