After the Prime Minister stated that he was prepared to be questioned by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) his party colleagues were ecstatic. For days they described the PM’s offer as a “master stroke” that completely demolished the opposition’s demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The opposition was furious and it pointed out the limited brief of the PAC. It reiterated its demand for a JPC. Opposition leaders cited rules that precluded the PAC from summoning any minister. The government enjoyed the opposition’s discomfiture.
Oops! Suddenly something changed on Sunday. The second most senior minister Pranab Mukherjee turned turtle and mildly chided the PM for announcing his decision without consulting his colleagues. Had he been consulted, he said, he would have strongly advised the PM not to appear before the PAC. Mukherjee pointed out the constitutional position, much as the Opposition to no avail had done earlier. He would not have expressed this view of course without clearance from Sonia Gandhi. It seems suddenly the Congress leadership has developed second thoughts. The implications of the PM’s move are beginning to sink in. One can only wonder what could have impelled the Congress to view the PM’s offer in a new light. The Advani group in the BJP would naturally be delighted with the new stance adopted by the Congress.
So what happens next? Pranab Mukherjee provides the clue. Urging the opposition to debate the demand for a JPC he said: “In the Lok Sabha, if a majority of the members say they want the JPC, then I will agree to that.” The JPC has become preferable to an unpredictable PAC. Sharad Pawar had already hinted his support for a JPC. Mamata Bannerjee who faces assembly polls against the Left sorely wants a JPC to fight the major poll issue of corruption. It is a given that the majority will vote for a JPC in parliament. What seems to have happened is that the Congress has decided to accept a JPC to allow the Budget session to proceed, and to defuse the persistent public criticism against corruption. Pre-empting Joshi suits the Advani loyalists in the BJP. Gaining time suits Sonia Gandhi and the bunch of Congress ministers under the corruption scanner. It also suits Karunanidhi who on Sunday snubbed the PM by breaking an appointment in Chennai.
But will it suit PAC Chairman Dr Joshi who might have entertained hopes of scoring a political goal? The Budget session of parliament begins on February 18th. The PAC has until then to show results. Can it? Meanwhile the status quo on the corruption issue continues to diminish the PM’s stature and reputation. So what could suit the PM is some spectacular game changing event that silences his opponents and regains his own reputation. What could that be? A dramatic clinching exposure or a major political arrest would certainly change the game. Can such an event occur before February 18th? Your guess is as good as mine. Wait and watch.