The party-line divisions in JPC had practically existed from day one. With another parliamentary panel, the PAC, also the differences came to the fore on April 15, 2011 when sharp exchanges among members forced cancellation of sitting and quizzing of the Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister T.K.A. Nair – both known for enjoying Dr Manmohan Singh’s trust for quite sometime now.
The Congress and DMK members of the PAC headed by BJP’s M M Joshi questioned the need for deposition by the cabinet secretary and PMO officials on the technical ground that a Joint Parliamentary Committee had been set up. Aruna Kumar Vandavalli, Naveen Jindal and Satpal Maharaj are Congress members from Lok Sabha and Danapal Venugopal is from DMK.
Only the Law Secretary D.R. Meena, who was made to wait for several hours, did appear briefly the panel. CBI Director A.P. Singh and Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati also could not appear that day.
A stunned and visibly embarrassed PAC, Chairman Murli Manohar Joshi on April 15 also called of his scheduled media briefing as some members even questioned the rationale behind such exercises.
On April 21, the PAC held an “internal meeting” apparently to thrash out the differences.
But the efforts yielded no results as Congress and DMK members again opposed PAC probe - something opposed by the opposition party members.
Prior to that in the first week of April, the PAC held two-day special sittings where in corporate honchos like Ratan Tata, Anil Ambani, DB Etisalat CEO Atul Jhamb who represented Vivek Goenka, Unitech's Sanjay Chandra and lobbyist Niira Radia.
Among other matters, it is understood, BJP’s Yashwant Sinha took exceptions on Tata sending a sealed letter to Karunanidhi showering praise on A Raja. During questioning, Tata, described as being ‘candid’ by PAC chairman Joshi, confessed that his group had a "chemistry problem" with Raja's predecessor, and DMK leader Dayanidhi Maran, who was telecom minister in UPA I for first few years.
Niira Radia’s contentions that some of the ‘tapes’ were doctored evoked mild warning from chairman Joshi.
To one question, she reportedly told the panel, “Sir, I am too small … to” suggest and influence cabinet formation. She was specifically asked why and how she had launched a campaign to “re-install Raja as telecom minister in May 2009”.
Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) Chairman Anil Ambani was quizzed for an hour the next day on his company's links with Swan Telecom and on the dual technology issue. Members quizzed him why he sold of stake in Swan just before license was granted and asked to share his views on the first come first serve policy, which has now come under serious questioning.
“Anil Ambani was candid mostly but at some places refused to answer as matter was subjudice,” remarked Joshi later.
The fiery war of words in Parliament and outside preceded the formation of Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to probe the 2G scam. But no sooner the scene of yet another round of confrontation between the law makers, and crucially the JPC chairman P C Chacko and his counterpart heading the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Murli Manohar Joshi have surfaced. Chacko, a Congressman, has raised the bogey of ‘parallel probe’, something dismissed by the BJP veteran – who also insists that no one can give orders to PAC to close its shop.
When a journalist quizzed P C Chacko, the nonchalant chairman of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) set up to probe the 2G scam about the “real priorities” of the panel, the underlining message was in the question itself.
On his part, Chacko, a Congress MP from Kerala, asserted that his panel is certain about its goal; but it’s functioning so far – the initial days and only one formal sitting – suggest that somewhere the JPC is going off-track.
In the eye of the public, the image of Congress-led coalition vis-à-vis handling the vexed corruption menace has gone all-time low. The Anna Hazare-led stir over the demand for an anti-graft Lok Pal legislation was only a pointer.
In such a challenging time, Congress should be cautious about pursuing its role in the running of the parliamentary panels. The initial impression set by Chacko-led JPC does not inspire confidence at all, one is afraid.
If the panel report in a slight way appears to be an eye-wash, the government’s problems would only increase manifold.
Earlier too, the JPC probe on corruption cases – like that on Bofors and the latest 2008 ‘cash-for-vote’ scandal did not convince the country nor opposition parties. The Wikileaks episode lately has only proved that the separate notes of dissent to the 2008 cash-for-vote scam by CPI-M member Mohammad Salim and Vijay Malhotra (BJP) carried some merits. Therefore, the onus is on the ruling party and of course the two parliamentary panels meant to dig out the truth. The Hazare stir has also proved for once that parliamentary lapses could lead the countrymen to the streets. Dr Manmohan Singh’s regime should take the message pretty well!
The moot question is , what is more important, nailing the wrong doers of 2G spectrum or fight it out on whether PAC and JPC should do that.
Congress is yet again on a new game -- instead of working on the draft for Lok Pal bill, Digvijay Singhs have been let loose to defame Shanti Bhushan and his lawyer son Prashant. Are you on the right track, dear UPA regime?