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JPC: one Left leaves, another stays

New Delhi, Oct. 11: CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta today walked out of a meeting of the joint parliamentary committee on spectrum allocations, accusing Congress member Shashi Tharoor of trying to “insult” him and defend a witness who was being quizzed.

CPM MP Sitaram Yechury, however, stayed put and didn’t join his Left comrade in storming out of the meeting the BJP had boycotted in protest against panel chairman and Congress MP P.C. Chacko’s “autocratic” style of functioning.

Dasgupta walked out after a brief exchange of words with Tharoor while the panel was examining former additional secretary in the department of economic affairs Sindhushree Khullar.

“Tharoor tried to insult me. He also tried to defend the witness. It is totally against the procedures of a parliamentary panel,” the trade union leader told reporters after leaving in a huff.

The panel, set up after the entire winter session of Parliament was washed out last year over the Opposition’s demand to set up a JPC, has been formed to probe alleged irregularities in the allocation of 2G spectrum. But it appears to have achieved little, having turned into a forum for members of the ruling coalition and the Opposition trying to brow beat each other.

Dasgupta said he had written to Chacko to demand that P. Chidambaram, who was finance minister then too when the spectrums were allocated, be called as a witness.

Asked why Yechury, who too wanted Chidambaram to be called as a witness, didn’t join him in walking out, Dasgupta said: “Why should he? He did not fight with Tharoor.”

Members from the Samajwadi Party and the BSP also backed Dasgupta’s demand.

Chacko is learnt to have written to Meira Kumar to decide on the demand, as the Speaker’s nod is needed for a minister to be called as a witness before a parliamentary panel.

“Today we made a strong case about why the then finance minister was needed to appear before the panel and the chairman accepted. I recalled how Manmohan Singh as then finance minister had appeared before the JPC probing the securities scam,” Yechury said.

The BJP wants Manmohan Singh also to appear before the panel, though the Left and other Opposition parties are not with it on the issue of calling the Prime Minister.

The six BJP members on the panel did not attend today’s meeting but their leader Yashwant Sinha wrote to Chacko accusing the chairman of being “autocratic”. The BJP was, however, silent on whether it would ask the six to resign from the committee.

“You have been avoiding taking a decision on this issue (summoning the Prime Minister and Chidambaram) for reasons best known to you. When we tried to raise this issue once again in the meeting of September 18, you behaved in a totally non-democratic, in fact an autocratic fashion and did not allow some of my colleagues and me to even raise the issue,” Sinha said in the letter.

He justified the demand for calling Singh and Chidambaram as witnesses, saying there were questions that “they and they alone can answer”.

“If (former telecom minister) A. Raja can go to jail, why can’t the Prime Minister and Chidambaram appear before the JPC? Why are they so sacrosanct?” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

Chacko has remained firm against the party’s demand to call the Prime Minister.

Sources said the BJP was trying to use the JPC to corner the government, particularly the Prime Minister.