Pow wow in Parliament
In a fierce, noisy and bitter debate on alleged bribing of MPs during UPA-1’s 2008 trust vote over the nuclear deal, the government got the better of the opposition, arguing that graft charges were unproven and accusing the BJP of masterminding the cash-for-votes operation. Anticipating that the main opposition would train its guns on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over his claim that no one from the Congress or the government had broken the law, the government counter-attacked, saying it was the BJP’s desire to destabilize UPA-1 that motivated a TV sting. The PM, who was aggressive when he spoke on the issue last week, again chose offence as his weapon. Leaving the nitty-gritty of the government’s defence to ministerial colleagues Pawan Bansal, Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram, he hit out at the weak link in the BJP’s WikiLeaks offensive–a cable in which veteran L K Advani assured the US that the BJP, contrary to its opposition to the nuclear deal, would not junk the agreement if it came to power. PM Manmohan Singh sarcastically remarked, “The main opposition party, right from the year 2004, adopted the attitude that we were an usurper. Advaniji believes that being the prime minister was his birthright… And, therefore, he has never forgiven me. All that I can say is… please wait for another three-and-a-half years in the wings.” The three ministers—P K Bansal, Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram—turned in effective performances, blunting sharp speeches by the leaders of opposition in the two Houses, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha in the short discussion which the government, ironically, allowed only grudgingly. The PM was the surprise package. He floored Swaraj with a flirtatious Urdu couplet and his swipe at Advani’s unfulfilled ambition hit home. “Mana ki teri deed ke kaabil nahin hoon main/ Tu mera shauq dekh, mera intezaar dekh (I accept that I may not be worthy of being in your sight/ but look at my obsession, look at my patience) he said to Swaraj, causing her to blush. While the two sides went head-to-head, the government earned a psychological advantage that might help it fight off blues it has suffered from a string of scams and a growing perception of drift. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi cheered Congress lead speakers who argued skillfully that the PM was not wrong in saying a parliamentary report had not been able to nail down anyone for alleged bribes. In a rare intervention, she spiritedly countered Yashwant Sinha when he spoke of US influence on the UPA government. “People said the same about your government,” came the riposte from Sonia. The PM gave no quarter to the BJP, sticking to saying that the parliamentary committee had, “on balance”.The BJP was aggressive, and Swaraj, Jaitley and Sinha directed powerful punches at the government. They were, however, hamstrung by the report of the parliamentary panel whose members have, in keeping with their party affiliations, arrived at contradictory findings. Chidambaram pounced upon the contradictions to rebut BJP’s argument that the PM had misled Parliament when he said that the committee found no evidence of bribery.