New Delhi, Dec. 9: The government today rejected the Opposition’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the Volcker allegations, saying the Justice R.S. Pathak panel has already started its work and its scope is “very wide”.
“I do not see that any purpose will be served by a JPC at this stage,” defence minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha after the BJP’s deputy leader, V.K. Malhotra, raised the matter.
Mukherjee said the Opposition had first asked for a CBI inquiry, then demanded an FIR against those named in the report on the Iraqi oil-for-food scam and “now suddenly, they want a JPC”.
All “new factors” relating to the Iraqi oil-for-food scam would be sent to the Pathak panel, he said. “To suggest a completely new mechanism is not acceptable.”
The government also clarified that no new terms of reference would be added to those laid down in the Pathak committee. Yesterday, the Congress had demanded that the ambit of the authority be widened to look into the alleged involvement of NDA leaders and people “close” to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the oil-for-food programme during Saddam Hussein’s regime.
In reply to a question from a reporter, finance minister P. Chidambaram said: “Please look at the terms of the reference. I think, term 3 and the last term are comprehensive enough.” But, he added, if such a request came from Justice Pathak, it would be given “due weight”.
The Congress’s demand came after media reports quoted diplomat-turned-politician Romesh Bhandari as saying a “person” close to Vajpayee had been in touch with Saddam’s son Uday.
According to Congress sources, the government was digging out “details” about who in the NDA regime had travelled to Iraq, how frequently and which private companies were “recommended” by them to the Saddam government for oil coupons. “Wait for the next instalment next week. Yeh cheez hai badi mast, mast (this stuff is very exciting),” a source said.
BJP sources questioned the “veracity” of Bhandari’s allegations, prompting the Congress to raise fingers at the party’s doublespeak.
If the BJP dismissed Bhandari’s charges as “lacking in credibility”, Congress sources said, why did a leader of L.K. Advani’s stature treat former ambassador to Croatia Anil Mathrani’s “revelations” as “gospel truth”'
“On the floor of the House, Advani said Mathrani’s so-called interview had established the truth of the charges (against Natwar Singh and the Congress) in the Volcker report. If what Mathrani says is the truth and nothing but the truth, how do Bhandari’s disclosures become lies'” asked a cabinet minister.
The BJP wasted no time in trying to clear Vajpayee’s name. It distributed copies of a list of names given by the foreign ministry of all those who have been to Iraq since 1990 and called on Saddam and his minister Tariq Aziz. It does not mention any BJP minister or person “close” to Vajpayee.
Asked why the BJP had asked for a JPC at this stage, Rajya Sabha MP S.S. Ahluwalia said: “There will be more transparency. There may be important papers which will not see the light of an Indian sun otherwise.” However, sources admitted the party also meant to keep the Volcker fire alive.