Pressure game

M Veerappa Moily and Mallikarjun Kharge, two Congress stalwarts in the Lok Sabha, are feeling the full weight of the BJP pressure. They chair crucial parliamentary committees in which the ruling party members outnumber the opposition. But, with their long parliamentary experience, the Karnataka politicians have been stonewalling the pressure tactics of the BJP.

Kharge, who heads the Public Accounts Committee, is facing criticism that he has been soft-pedalling a critical report on the Bofors deal of the mid-1980s, in which prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was allegedly involved. The BJP members accuse Kharge of not putting forward the report, which criticises the Congress government’s handling of the Bofors deal. But the chairman has the powers to decide on the agenda and what should be discussed. And, Kharge wants the committee to approve reports critical of the Narendra Modi government, before bringing up the old chestnut. Both sides know it is the election year, and skeletons pulled out by the parliamentary watchdog are good ammunition to fling at rivals.

Kharge’s predecessor, fellow partyman K.V. Thomas, had managed the majority by creating sub-committees of the PAC, and making BJP members their conveners to deal with sectoral issues. But, when Kharge asked senior Biju Janata Dal member Bhartruhari Mahtab to head a sub-committe, the Odisha politician refused.

M Veerappa Moily and Mallikarjun Kharge M Veerappa Moily and Mallikarjun Kharge

Moily heads the standing committee on finance, which has had more than three dozen reports adopted with rare unanimity. But, Moily’s navigational skills have hit a big rock, as his draft report on the ill effects of demonetisation has been a red rag to the prime minister and his party. Moily explained that the draft prepared by the committee’s secretariat was based on evidence given by Reserve Bank governor Urjit Patel, finance ministry officials and government documents. But the BJP members refuse to accept it. They have given the committee secretariat a dissent note containing point-by-point rebuttal of the conclusions reached in the draft report, and even praised demonetisation as the world’s greatest drive against corruption, black money and tax evasion.

Moily does not want a dissent report. Now he argues that both the draft and the dissent be shelved, and let the full committee sit and examine the evidence of witnesses and documents. But the BJP is not happy with this idea, as some of its members had gone hammer and tongs at witnesses, especially Patel and finance ministry officials. In fact, the BJP replaced one of its outspoken members in the committee during the annual renomination process.

The BJP members have been sending messages to Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan, asking her to ensure that the Bofors report is adopted, and the demonetisation report is changed to suit the majority will. But Kharge and Moily are resisting any intervention. As they have scheduled critical sittings of the committees before the monsoon session of Parliament begins in mid July, fireworks are expected.