Will Coalgate claim Manmohan Singh's scalp?

Written by: Sreekumar Narayan
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated on May 29, 2012 that he will quit public life if Team Anna's allegation against him is proved. He simultaneously lambasted the anti-corruption crusaders for using a particular term while referring to him.

Singh Bhushan

Referring to reports which quoted Prashant Bhushan, a prominent member of Team Anna, as saying that the PM was like 'Shikhandi', Singh said, "Bharat ki janta is baat ka faisla kare ki maine kya kasoor kiya hai ki mere liye aise kathin aur kathor shabd istemal kiye ja rahe hain. But to use such language... I think the public in India should make up its mind whether this sort of politics should rule the roost in the country."

For the uninitiated, Shikhandi is an important character in the Mahabharata. When the five Pandavas failed to get the better of their granduncle Bheeshma who was fighting on the side of the Kauravas, they assigned the task to Shikhandi as Bheeshma had received a boon that only a woman would be able to defeat him. Shikhandi was by birth a female. Bheeshma refused to accept a woman's challenge and laid down his arms. Despite this, Shikhandi rained arrows at him. Bheeshma was grievously wounded and some days later succumbed to his injuries. So the story goes.

Santhosh Hegde, the former Lokayukta of Karnataka, voiced his dismay at the controversial allusion and disassociated himself from it. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh flayed Team Anna's comments. Decency in language should be maintained while criticizing the Prime Minister, RSS Joint General Secretary Dattatraya Hosbale told reporters in Nagpur.

Prashant Bhushan subsequently clarified that he had merely accused the Congress of using the PM as a shield. The leading advocate pointed out that just because Manmohan Singh is generally considered to be clean, one cannot infer that the Union cabinet is equally so.

Of late, several Union ministers have been accused of corruption. However, the UPA has stubbornly resisted calls for a high-level probe. The Congress has been repeatedly citing the PM's assertion that he will never allow tainted persons to be a part of the government. Now that aspersions have been cast on his integrity, it is a different ballgame altogether.

Earlier this year, the media highlighted a draft of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks over the years. Since Manmohan Singh took charge as the Coal Minister in November 2006 and held the portfolio till May 2009, he falls within the ambit of the overall audit that is being carried out by the CAG.

Team Anna's contention is that the CAG has detected a few instances of wrongdoing in these three years. The PM is clearly ruffled by this. Averring that the allegations against him are "uniformed" and "irresponsible", Singh has already decried the "discussions based on leaked drafts". He can well continue to claim innocence until the CAG presents the report to the government.

Afterwards, it will be open season if the CAG finds any fault on his part. Not only will the mud stick to Singh, a lot of muck will also hit the fan. In what is the worst case scenario for the Congress, neither the party nor the PM will then be able to hide behind the fig leaf of coalition compulsions like they did in the 2G spectrum scam where they had a convenient scapegoat in DMK's A Raja.

Will 'Coalgate' cause the PM's downfall? The coming weeks and months are going to provide the answer. Watch this space for updates.

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