Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Govt to detail position on black money today

Published: Tuesday, Jan 25, 2011, 1:31 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The heat over black money is intensifying, with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee set to detail the UPA government’s Herculean efforts to bring back the billions stashed away in Swiss banks and other tax havens by Indians.
Mukherjee, who is expected to release a ‘status paper’ on this issue at a press conference today, is also likely to indicate the administrative and legislative steps being taken by the government to deal with the growing menace.
According to a recently published report by Ford Foundation, between 2000 and 2008, as much as $104 billion of black money moved out of the country, into various tax havens. Together with China ($2.18 trillion), Malaysia ($291 billion), Philippines ($109 billion) and Indonesia ($104 billion), this accounted for 96.5% of total flows of illicit capital from Asia and 44.9% of flows out of all developing countries.
“Illicit flows involve capital that is illegally earned, transferred, or utilised and covers all unrecorded private financial outflows that drive the accumulation of foreign assets by residents in contravention of applicable capital controls and regulatory frameworks. Hence, illicit flows may involve capital earned through legitimate means such as the profits of a legitimate business. It is the transfer abroad of that profit in violation of applicable laws (such as non-payment of applicable corporate taxes or breaking of exchange control regulations) that makes the outflows illicit,” says the report.
With the UPA government under attack from various quarters, including the Supreme Court, NGOs, Parliament’s standing committee on finance and the Opposition, for doing precious little to bring back the thousands and thousands of crores, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed Mukherjee to tell the nation what his ministry and the government had done in this regard.
In fact, the standing committee on finance, headed by former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, is holding its meeting on January 27 on black money stashed abroad.
Sources in the government say the Prime Minister is extremely worried over the political fallouts of the black money issue as it may take an emotive turn too.
The press conference, the first in the series, is part of this campaign.
The government is expected to tighten foreign investment into Indian equity market through the participatory notes route by making it mandatory to disclose the original investor’s name. As such, most of the unaccounted money finds its way into the shares/ commodities/ real estate markets.
Mukherjee is also likely to come out with the status report of treaties and agreements signed with foreign governments including tax-haven countries. He is likely to list out around 80 countries, including 10 tax-havens, with which India has either signed agreements or is in the process of doing so.
He has to devise a strategy to prevent generation of black money, its outflow and accordingly tighten the regulatory and tax framework.
That’s going to be easier said than done. It is no secret that barring Swiss bank UBS, which buckled under US pressure and divulged the names of 2,000-odd American citizens, no tax-haven country has volunteered any information so far.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Forged letters from ‘MPs’; prime minister's office jittery

Published: Sunday, Jan 23, 2011, 23:08 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

This is one headache prime minister Manmohan Singh could do without. Many of the letters received by his office from members of Parliament (MPs) and other public servants are forged. For a person keen on clearing letters fast, this has created a curious problem.
According to sources, the prime minister's office, in some cases, has to launch probes into the veracity of the letters and identify the end beneficiary after these are cleared by the prime minister. The senders usually forge the letterhead and signatures of the MPs and others in important offices.
The trend gained momentum after May 2004, when Singh took charge as prime minister, according to sources. There have been at least 13 such letters in the last six years while there was none during the regime of Atal Behari Vajpayee between 1998 and 2004. The number may appear small. But it has created concern in the prime minister's office, forcing it to put every letter it receives under the scanner.
Most of these complaints relate to corporate conflicts and corruption in high places. Some leaders whose signatures have been forged include Kalraj Mishra, Ram Gopal Yadav, Thavar Chand Gehlot, Shanker Sinh Waghela, KC Singh and Ram Das Athawale.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Black money: Stung Manmohan Singh puts Pranab Mukherjee on damage control job

Published: Friday, Jan 21, 2011, 2:00 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
A day after the Supreme Court slammed the government over black money stashed away in tax havens abroad, prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh sounded a note of urgency in the matter, asking finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to take appropriate steps.
The prime minister, however, made it clear that there was “no instant solution” to bring back black money. He also said information with government cannot be made public due to treaty obligations. “We have some information and that is being utilised to collect taxes,’’ he added.
At the cabinet meeting on Thursday, Singh expressed concern that the government was being made to look on the defensive on the black money issue. Other ministers felt that an impression was going around that the government had something to hide.
A senior official in the prime minister’s office said the prime minister felt the case was not properly put before the court. India has already signed agreements and treaties with more than 80 countries, including 10 tax heavens, to share information about tax evaders.
The government has initiated action against 18 Indians who had deposited money in Liechtenstein’s Bank in Germany. As per the records sent by the German authorities, the money amounted to Rs43.83 crore only.
The Liechtenstein’s head of the state, Prince Alois, had visited India in November last year and declared that his country was not a tax heaven after signing a global treaty with the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development).
Mukherjee is understood to have apprised the meeting that his ministry has set up income tax units in Mauritius, Singapore, Cyprus, Germany and half-a-dozen other countries to obtain information. The Indian government has also signed double taxation avoidance agreements with 80 countries, including UAE, Libya, Luxembourg, Swiss Confederation and all major countries, besides entering into negotiations for signing tax information exchange agreements (TIEA) with the Bahamas, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Isle of Man, Jersey, Monaco, Caymans Islands, St Kitts and Argentina.
The prime minister felt that the finance ministry should take prompt steps to inform the country adequately on the issue.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Govt withdraws customs concessions provided to BCCI

Published: Monday, Jan 17, 2011, 21:57 IST
Place: New Delhi | Agency: PTI
The government today withdrew customs duty exemption on import of goods by the Board Of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI) or bodies certified by it following non-compliance of mandatory requirements.
This follows the sports ministry de-recognising BCCI as a national sports federation or the apex body for cricket in India.
The move comes ahead of the World Cup which will be co-hosted by BCCI from February 19.
" is informed that henceforth BCCI would not be eligible to avail itself of duty exemption under notification no 21/2002 customs dated 1.3.2002 or any other customs notification.
"Thus goods imported by BCCI or certified by BCCI for import are not entitled to any exemption benefit which is available to sports goods or equipment or consumables imported or certified by a National Sports Federation (NSF) or Apex body," Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) said in a circular.
The decision, according to Deloitte India indirect tax leader Prashant Deshpande, "is a setback to the stakeholders associated with the forthcoming World Cup proposed to be staged in India who would now be visited with a customs duty burden of up to 26.85% on sports requisites".
The circular said that the concessions were withdrawn as BCCI did not submit the necessary documents to the ministry of youth affairs and sports.
"The ministry of youth affairs and sports has informed that the BCCI has not complied with the mandatory requirements of submitting the necessary documents to the government for annual recognition as a National Sports Federation (NSF) /Apex Body for the game of cricket in India", the circular added.
In view of the non-compliance, the BCCI would cease to be a NSF or the apex body for cricket with immediate effect, it added.
India along with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka is organising the ICC World Cup Cricket 2011 which is being co-hosted by BCCI.

Murli Manohar Joshi defies BJP as PCA resumes 2G scam hearings

Published: Thursday, Jan 20, 2011, 0:30 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi
The public accounts committee (PAC) of parliament headed by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi has decided to resume hearings in the 2G spectrum scam.
Brushing aside the BJP suggestion that he should go slow as the PAC probe could dampen the opposition campaign for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) inquiry, Joshi has summoned former telecom secretary DS Mathur and joint secretary Manju Madhavan on Friday.
He is reported to have assured the BJP high command that PAC proceedings won’t hinder the opposition drive as JPC would be headed by a Congress leader.
The resumption of hearings assumes significance as PAC is likely to consider prime minister Manmohan Singh’s offer last month to appear before it. Joshi is reported to have consulted Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar as her permission is required before accepting the offer.
The PAC chairman is, however, reportedly not in a hurry to call PM as the committee’s questionnaire for him is not yet ready. But he is gradually building a case to summon top Congress leaders who have prominently figured in the Nira Radia tapes, making them jittery.
Sources said PAC does not require the speaker’s permission to summon anybody but cabinet ministers.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Manmohan Singh may reshuffle his cabinet pack soon

Published: Tuesday, Jan 18, 2011, 1:06 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Decks seem to have been cleared for a reshuffle of the Union cabinet and organisational changes in the ruling Congress.
An indication of this came when prime minister Manmohan Singh called on President Pratibha Patil at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday evening.
The meeting was termed routine in which the nation’s prevailing political situation was discussed, but sources said finishing touches were being given to proposed ministerial changes that could take place on Wednesday.
To buttress their point, the sources said the prime minister had deferred a plan to address the nation on Sankranti for the purpose.
It is learnt that Manmohan and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi have already held a couple of rounds of talks to sort out certain thorny issues denting the image of the government.
PM is keen to send a strong signal to countrymen and wants a free hand in choosing his ministerial team and in allocation of portfolios.
The Nira Radia tapes suggested that neither Sonia Gandhi, nor Singh is the master and things are decided elsewhere.
There is a realisation that lack of coordination at the top has led to this bizarre situation. Therefore, the long-pending reshuffle should generate confidence in the government, so that UPA is able to fight the opposition which is firing one salvo after another.
The question is not merely of filling vacancies as ministers such as Sharad Pawar and Kapil Sibal hold two to three important portfolios and will have to shed some.
TR Baalu of DMK is set to join the government and may be given an infrastructure ministry while Praful Patel of NCP may be upgraded to cabinet rank.
Trinamool Congress leader Sudip Bandopadhyay may also get a berth as representative of the largest UPA constituent after Congress.
But there is still some uncertainty whether a Kamraj-type plan, which former prime minister the late Indira Gandhi implemented in the early seventies to re-energise Congress and the government, would be employed by Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi.
If this is to be done, at least 4-5 senior Congress ministers will be sent to states and new blood will be infused in the government so that it looks “younger” as promised by PM in May 2010.
Pawar, who holds agriculture, food and consumer affairs ministries, had earlier expressed intention to shed some of his burden. Similarly, Sibal, who has HRD, telecom and science and technology, may give up the last portfolio.
He is said to be passionate about retaining HRD in which he has initiated certain reforms and would like to pursue them. PM does not want to remove Sibal from telecom, which was given to him after A Raja’s resignation in the wake of the 2G spectrum allocation scam.
A source close to the powers that be said a clear picture should emerge by Tuesday.

Pranab Mukherjee, Chidambaram spat casts shadow on cabinet reshuffle plan

Published: Monday, Jan 17, 2011, 2:36 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
The growing chasm between finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P Chidambaram ahead of the cabinet reshuffle this week has left the Congress top brass jittery.
At loggerheads for sometime now, the leaders had an ugly spat at a recent cabinet meeting.
Trouble started when Chidambaram made a remark at a time the finance minister was presenting the decision of the empowered group of ministers (eGoM) on raising the issue price of wheat and rice for people above the poverty line (APL), highly-placed sources in the government told DNA.
It was proposed that the issue price of wheat be raised by Rs2.35 per kg and rice by Rs3.55 per kg for the APL category.
Chidambaram, who held the finance portfolio earlier, said people were already suffering due to high food inflation and looking for relief.
Thus, it would be “immoral” to raise the issue price at this juncture.
Mukherjee, sources said, lost his cool on hearing the word “immoral’’. “What is immoral about it? How can you say it is immoral ?” he shot back at Chidambaram.
The vehemence of his reaction left everybody, including prime minister Manmohan Singh, stunned. Chidambaram apologised immediately and withdrew his remarks. However, he maintained a stony silence through the remainder of the meeting.
There has been a trust deficit between the ministers for sometime. It took a turn for the worse when Mukherjee was asked by the party high command to handle the Telangana issue.
There is a feeling in the Congress that Chidamaram had messed it up and also that he failed to comprehend the complexities of the Maoist problem.
Chidamabaram, on his part, has been openly expressing doubts over the way food prices are being handled by the finance ministry.
There are many who feel that the 2G spectrum scam and Nira Radia tapes have a lot to do with differences at the top.
Top party sources said the prime minister will need to take serious note of the differences before it reshuffles ministers.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi give final touches to cabinet reshuffle

Published: Friday, Jan 14, 2011, 2:40 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Prime minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairman Sonia Gandhi are giving final touches to the long-awaited cabinet reshuffle and organisational changes.
According to sources in the prime minister’s office, the two leaders held one-to-one discussion without aides last week to remove some of the impediments.
Another round of fine tuning by the two leaders is to take place on Friday and the subject may crop up at the party’s core committee meeting.
Informed sources also told DNA that president Pratibha Patil has been sounded out about it and she would stay put in the capital for most of the next week.
Sonia Gandhi has already signalled that the policy of ‘one-man one-post’ will be implemented.
If the DMK has indicated its desire to induct TR Baalu in the Union cabinet in place of A Raja, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has sent a signal that Praful Patel, currently the minister of state for civil aviation with an independent charge, be upgraded to the rank of a cabinet minister.
The NCP is keen for another infrastructure ministry, such as the power ministry, in lieu of the aviation portfolio. While Baalu met Manmohan Singh and Gandhi last week, Patel also had a meeting with the PM on Thursday before flying to Mumbai to meet Pawar. He had earlier met Gandhi.
The Trinamool Congress may seek induction of a couple of its MPs into the council of ministers. Trinamool has 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha and is entitled to an enhanced quota as per the power-sharing formula.
Party chief Mamata Banerjee held telephonic conversation with UPA leaders in Delhi as she does not intend to come to the capital soon.
Regarding changes in Congress, corporate and minority affairs minister Salman Khursheed may be promoted as law minister to replace Veerappa Moily.
It is also learnt that external affairs minister SM Krishna will continue in the same position. Kapil Sibal will be retained in the telecom ministry and science and technology ministry but may have to shed the HRD portfolio.
The prime minister’s main worry is to tone up the functioning of the infrastructure sector and the reshuffle may affect a couple of existing ministers.
The reshuffle also needs to be watched for the “Rahul factor”. While Sachin Pilot and Jitin Prasad are already in the ministry, there are talks to bring Milind Deora in the fold.

Meira Kumar to make another attempt to break Parliament logjam over 2G scam

Published: Friday, Jan 14, 2011, 2:28 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar will make another attempt to break the impasse in Parliament on the insistence of the opposition parties to set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the second-generation mobile telephony spectrum scam.
The speaker is likely to invite the leaders of political parties after returning from London where she has gone to attend an international conference. She will be returning on January 19.
With government showing no signs of blinking and the opposition equally determined not to allow Parliament to function, Meira Kumar is worried about the fate of the budget session beginning mid-February.
She had made one attempt last month by inviting leaders of almost all political parties to find a solution. The government had offered to call a special session of Parliament to discuss the joint parliamentary demand, which was rejected by the opposition. Since then, the government has launched a multi-pronged strategy to deal with the principal opposition party, the BJP.
It is trying to puncture the very basis of the opposition’s charge of Rs1.76 lakh crore loss in the 2G mobile bandwidth scam by fielding telecom minister Kapil Sibal who attacked the CAG findings, and also putting the RSS on the backfoot in the Aseemanand case.
It is learnt that the RSS has distanced itself from some of the extremist elements who were earlier in the organisation after a word was conveyed by a few Congress leaders that the government will be left with no option but to impose a ban on it. There are indications all such terror cases - five in all - may be handed over to National Investigation Agency which functions directly under the union home ministry.
The UPA has also succeeded in even wooing some of the BJP leaders to sing a different tune. The UPA is also quietly talking to some of the regional and smaller parties distance from the JPC chorus.
Last but not the least, the government has also taken a series of steps to launch a tirade against corruption in public life particularly against public servants in order to send tilt public opinion. Pranab Mukherjee-led group of ministers has been set up which will meet first time next week to devise strategy to fight corruption.

Group of ministers in place, PM Manmohan Singh ready to take on corruption

Published: Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011, 2:39 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh is set to launch a full-blown war against corruption after January 14, Makar Sankranti.
He has already asked finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who heads the group of ministers (GoM) on corruption, to offer interim recommendations even though the GoM has a 60-day time-frame to do so.
The cabinet reshuffle, which is due soon, will reflect the PM’s determination to fight corrupt elements within the political and bureaucratic system.
He himself is seized of the issue of corruption in high places. A crucial step in this regard will be his decision on bringing the prime minister under the purview of the Lokpal.
The Lokpal bill has been considered at length by different governments at the Centre during the past 40 years but there has been no decision yet. Singh is also keen on curtailing the discretionary powers of ministers and bureaucrats. He has seldom used his own and intends to discard them. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has already written to ministers and chief ministers to give up their discretionary powers.
Sources in the PMO told DNA that Singh is keen on the summary trial of bureaucrats who take advantage of rules and procedures to delay punitive action.
He wants time-bound action against bureaucrats caught red-handed taking bribes or seeking favours from the corporates.
Singh wants law minister M Veerappa Moily to suggest ways to fast-track proceedings in courts. Even if an amendment to the constitution providing for summary proceedings in such cases is required, he is keen to bring it through in the budget session itself; steps include setting up of special courts for cases which draw huge public attention.
The PM has also directed the secretary (personnel) that all pending cases where government sanction is needed for action against corrupt babus be cleared within the stipulated time-frame. He is understood to have already given a free hand to investigating agencies to deal with rouge elements in the Commonwealth Games sternly.
The PM is also in harmony with the chief election commissioner SY Qureshi who wants demonstrative action against politicians charged with criminal activities and corruption. The eight-member GoM was set up last week to recommend “all measures, legislative and administrative, to tackle corruption and improve transparency”.
Minister’s group to study graft
A formal notification on the constitution of a group of ministers (GoM) to study corruption in all aspects was issued on Monday. The terms of reference include state funding of elections; transparency in public procurement and contracts and enunciation of a new public procurement policy; discretionary powers enjoyed by Union ministers; and introduction of open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources.
P Chidambaram, Sharad Pawar, AK Antony, M Veerappa Moily, Kapil Sibal, Mamata Banerjee and MK Alagiri are other members of this committee. The GoM is to submit its report within 60 days.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

PM Manmohan Singh reveals names of 851 defaulting babus

Published: Monday, Jan 10, 2011, 2:29 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Angered at the reluctance of many bureaucrats to declare their assets despite repeated reminders, prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh has got their names, designations and departments posted on the official website of the ministry of personnel, public grievances and pension.
The list of defaulters — there are 851 in all — includes bureaucrats of the rank of secretary to the government of India. All those figuring on the lists are above the rank of under secretary.
The PM, in an order issued on January 6, has directed the bureaucrats to submit immovable property return (IPR) by January 31, 2011. They have also been directed to provide full particulars of property and assets and avoid phrases such as “same as previous year” or “no change”.
The PMO demanded that full particulars of the IPR, whether inherited/owned or acquired or held (power of attorney), be given.
The order is to convey to the babus that two reminders had been issued in the past. Sources in the prime minister’s office said Singh is upset with the defiant attitude of the bureaucrats and wants firm action taken against them. Putting up names on the website is an unusually strong step, they said.
The PM, incidentally, is the minister-in-charge of the personnel ministry.

Worried Manmohan Singh asks Sharad Pawar, Pranab Mukherjee to check food inflation

Published: Friday, Jan 7, 2011, 0:13 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

The surging food inflation has triggered concern in the Union government. A worried Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh has asked Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and agriculture & food minister Sharad Pawar to evolve “short- and long-term” measures to keep the trend in check.
The issue was not taken up at Thursday’s cabinet meeting but the PM asked senior ministers separately to chalk out a strategy to bring down prices. The PMO also downplayed concerns expressed by Union home minister P Chidambaram publicly in this regard. Chidambaram, who was the finance minister during UPA-I, had expressed doubts on Wednesday whether the government had adequate policy tools to tame prices, which erode real family income.
“…Not sure whether we understand all the factors that contribute to price rise. Nor am I sure whether we have at our hand all the tools to control inflation,” he had said, adding “there is no tax worse than inflation”.
The PM, already under great pressure from the opposition over allegations of corruption against his ministerial colleagues, may find himself in more trouble if prices keep galloping. Senior ministers Mukherjee and Pawar have already expressed their inability to contain the trend.
Pawar has already expressed interest to relinquish the responsibility of the ministry of food and consumer affairs. The PM may consider it seriously now. However, the move might have its own pitfalls. Pawar, in a confidential report to the PMO, has listed various reasons for high food prices and the difficulties being faced by his ministry.
Apart from global factors which are leading to rise in prices of oil seeds, oil cakes and other commodities, the key factor is growing consumption of milk, milk products and other food items in rural India itself due to rising level of prosperity. The high minimum support price to farmers also has caused some distortion.
Besides, a large number of private companies have been buying agricultural produce and milk products in a big way. The only option in this scenario is to prevent hoarding and import to meet the demand. Therefore, a change of guard at Krishi Bhawan alone may not suffice.
The PM is understood to have decided to summon a high-level meeting to discuss the issue next week.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

BJP reins in MM Joshi, softens PAC punch

Published: Wednesday, Jan 5, 2011, 1:00 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

Bowing to the wishes of his party, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi has decided not to pursue the probe by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) into the 2G scam “aggressively”.
Instead of probing the Rs1.76 lakh crore telecom scam, the PAC chairman has decided to look into a report related to health mission at the next hearing of the apex body of Parliament.
Highly placed sources in the PAC told DNA that the next meeting of PAC is slated to be held on January 12 and it will not take up the 2G scam.
Joshi was not immediately available for comment. Sources close to Joshi said he would return to the Capital on January 10.
The sources also said he had decided to be away from the Capital for a while and would celebrate his birthday in Varanasi on Wednesday.
BJP and NDA leaders had earlier asked Joshi not to hold meetings of PAC vigorously on the 2G scam particularly when the entire opposition, including the Left parties, was at loggerheads with the UPA government on setting up of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). Joshi initially ignored the suggestions and said PAC being headed by him had been seized of the 2G scam since June 30 last year. He had held several meetings of PAC and even got all the vital documents. The Opposition woke up only in the winter session to demand JPC probe and he as chairman of PAC won’t play the partisan role.
When the prime minister offered to appear before PAC rather than accepting the demand for a JPC, matters came to a head.
Sources said BJP chief Nitin Gadkari spoke to Joshi urging him to keep the sentiments of the opposition in mind while conducting proceedings of PAC.
It is learnt that the veteran BJP leader decided not to cross the “lakshman rekha”.
Accordingly, PAC did not take a decision on the prime minister’s offer to appear before the committee. Instead, Joshi put up the PM’s letter before the 22-member body for consideration. The decision was deferred.
Joshi had told DNA earlier that neither was he pursuing the 2G probe aggressively nor vigorously.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Congress working to split opposition ranks, sow dissent within BJP

Published: Sunday, Jan 2, 2011, 2:35 IST
By Harish Gupta | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA

With neither the opposition nor the government blinking on the former’s demand for a joint parliamentary commission (JPC) to probe the 2G spectrum allocation scam, the latter is now working on twin-pronged strategy to break the stalemate.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government is first working to create a gulf within the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The government was partially successful in the first part when it got BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi to head the parliamentary affairs committee (PAC) investigating the spectrum scam and by getting former telecom minister and BJP members Arun Shourie to publicly oppose the demand for a JPC.
Though Joshi later deferred to his party bosses to say he is not against a JPC, there are no signs that he will water down his hearings at the PAC.
The second thrust is in splitting the unity among the opposition parties on the joint demand for a JPC. For instance, the UPA is seeking to lure Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] president Sharad Yadav, who is the convener of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), to break ranks. Towards that end, when Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar held a meeting with non-NDA opposition leaders, she invited Sharad Yadav, and when she met BJP leaders, she kept Yadav out. But as of yet, Yadav has refused to budge, so much so, that when finance minister Pranab Mukherjee asked Sharad Yadav how fair was it for a small bunch of people to enter the well of the house and disrupt the proceedings continuously, Yadav curtly replied that it was the Congress party that had begun this particular practice in 1978-79.
The government is only confident that the Uttar Pradesh parties - Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) - will not insist on a JPC. The Left, for all its anathema to the BJP, is still insisting on a JPC, seeing in it a chance to embarrass their arch-rival, the Trinamool Congress, a constituent of the UPA government, and its leader Mamata Banerjee.
The Congress even quoted from WikiLeaks to claim that that Sonia Gandhi was pro-Left while telecom minister Kapil Sibal has gone on record to say that the “first-come, first-serve” policy in the sector was started by the NDA government, and only followed by the UPA. But the Left too has not been swayed, so far.
The government is, nevertheless, still hopeful that over the next few weeks, the opposition will split over the demand for a JPC. After all, the UPA has to ensure that the Budget session of Parliament, due in February, is not washed out the way the last session was.