| OUCH! Speaker Somnath Chatterjee at the news conference in Delhi. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 23: The BJP went ballistic in the Lok Sabha today over the “missing” coal minister, blasting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his silence on Sibu Soren.
In a double blow to Soren, the general secretary of his Jharkhand Mukti Morcha resigned and a senior Congress leader admitted the minister had become a “major embarrassment”.
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee remained a mute spectator as the BJP stepped up its offensive against the United Progressive Alliance government over Soren and prevented Speaker Somnath Chatterjee from making an observation on the conduct of MPs. It also stalled House proceedings before Parliament broke for a three-week recess during the budget session.
The party also threatened to boycott parliamentary committees to be constituted by the government after defence minister Pranab Mukherjee condemned the BJP MPs’ conduct — in a statement he read out in the Lok Sabha — for preventing Chatterjee from speaking.
“Some Opposition members went to the extent of saying instead of sermonising he (Chatterjee) should allow the leader of Opposition to speak first. This is an unprecedented incident in the House,” Mukherjee said.
“A cabinet minister facing a non-bailable arrest warrant in a case of heinous crime is still on the run from the law. The PM continues to be furtive, refusing to take Parliament, leave alone the nation, into confidence about this brazen defiance of the law by one of his colleagues,” said leader of Opposition L.K. Advani.
National Democratic Alliance leaders will meet President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam on Sunday and seek his intervention in sacking Soren and the other “tainted” ministers in the Congress-led UPA government, he said.
The NDA displayed solidarity over Soren, with members of the Biju Janata Dal, Trinamul Congress, Shiv Sena and the Telugu Desam Party by Advani’s side as he addressed the press.
However, cracks appeared in the JMM and the Congress-led alliance at the Centre over Soren. JMM general secretary Muktinath Upadhyay put in his papers, saying: “I cannot remain in a party whose leader is absconding and refusing to face Parliament and the people.”
The Congress was also in a bind. Till yesterday, the party had maintained that there was no question of asking the coal minister to quit, given the perception that the tie-up with the JMM and the Rashtriya Janata Dal was a winner at the Jharkhand Assembly elections.
But today a senior leader admitted the minister was a “major embarrassment” and would have to resign if the Ranchi court refused to grant him reprieve on Monday.