KOLKATA: Mr Pranab Mukherjee, the senior-most member of the Union cabinet, on Sunday caused a flutter in political circles by openly disagreeing with the Prime Minister, Dr Mammohan Singh’s offer to appear before the PAC in the 2G spectrum scam, saying that the decision had been taken “without consulting us”.
The Finance Minister, who is also leader of the Lok Sabha, said the Prime Minister was accountable to the Lok Sabha and “not to any committee”.
“The Prime Minister’s offer to appear before the PAC was a decision taken by him without consulting us. If he had discussed it with me I would have advised him not to offer to appear before the PAC,” Mr Mukherjee told a special meeting of the West Bengal PCC here.
“Constitutionally, the Prime Minister is accountable to the Lok Sabha and not to any committee,” Mr Mukherjee said on Dr Singh’s letter to the PAC chairman, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi on December 27 offering to appear before the panel.
Mr Mukherjee has been the principal negotiator for the UPA government in its efforts to break the logjam over the Opposition demand for the constitution of a JPC in the 2G scam but his repeated parleys with the BJP and other parties have not achieved any breakthrough.
He has demanded an apology from the Opposition, accusing it of “destroying” Parliament after they rejected his offer of a special session to discuss the JPC issue. The month-long winter session of Parliament had been a wash out over the JPC demand.
The Finance Minister said that he was a “conservative who believed in following rules of the House”.
“Why does a minister not appear before a parliamentary committee. The reason is simple. A minister is answerable to the House (Lok Sabha) or to the assembly… to 543 members in Lok Sabha or in case of West Bengal assembly to the 294 members.
“A person is a minister because the party he represents has the support of at least 272 Lok Sabha members …. And they are all behind the Prime Minister. They (ministers) are only accountable to the whole House and not to a part of the House,” Mr Mukherjee said.
He said there was only one precedence when Dr Singh as finance minister had appeared before the joint parliamentary committee in the Harshad Mehta stock market scam of 1992.
As news channels ran reports on his comments, Dr Mukherjee in the evening sought to clarify the position, denying any rift with the Prime Minister.
“It is wrong to state that there have been differences of opinion between me and the PM on his offer to appear before the PAC. I have said though PM had offered to appear before PAC, I would not have done so.
“I had also given an example that ministers did not appear before any parliamentary committee. This is because the parliamentary committees are part, while Parliament is the whole,” he said.
“Ministers have personal responsibility to be answerable to Parliament and not before a part. If someone does not understand this what can I do?” he asked.
“The Prime Minister has offered to appear before PAC to resolve the deadlock in Parliament. This is not a matter of difference between the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister.”
Asked how he expected the logjam in Parliament to end with the budget session of Parliament ahead, he said he was grateful to the Speaker, Ms Meira Kumar for holding two meetings with the ruling party and the principal opposition.
“In the last meeting a suggestion was made that I as the leader of the House should continue the exercise so that the impasse that has been created is resolved. I shall try to do that. I hope that the budget session will run smoothly.”
Referring to the washed out winter session over the demand for JPC into 2G spectrum issue, he said, “What has happened is distortion. Distortion is temporary and normal functioning is permanent.”
On December 20, Dr Singh, during the Congress plenary in Delhi, had said he was ready to appear before the PAC in the 2G spectrum issue as he had nothing to hide, after the opposition had stalled Parliament’s Winter Session over the demand for a JPC.
The PAC chairman, who belongs to the BJP, had not ruled out accepting the Prime Minister’s offer, saying a decision on the issue will be taken after consulting legal experts.
Congress had described PM’s offer as a “masterstroke” that was “brave and extraordinary”.