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After walkout, me-first race

New Delhi, Feb. 27: Forget why, the question is who first.

Which party first walked out of the Rajya Sabha this evening before the government introduced its resolution to set up a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the “Skyfall chopper scam” has become as politically critical as why they did so.

More so, if the exit brigade was led by the Trinamul Congress with the Janata Dal (United), the BJP and the Telugu Desam Party in tow, in that order.

The Centre’s offer of a JPC was aimed at diluting the Opposition’s looming offensive on the controversial purchase of VVIP helicopters from Italy.

Trinamul chief whip in the House Derek ’Brien said his party was the first to walk out. “We raised the first objection and walked out. The JD(U) and other parties followed us. We had nothing to do with (the) BJP,” ’Brien said.

From early noon, when the air in Parliament’s “darbar” gossip salon was thick with rumours of a JPC in the offing, Trinamul MPs had been saying they would oppose it.

The BJP too said it would, as did its principal ally Janata Dal (United).

A BJP leader claimed the Left was also on its side, although minutes earlier, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath had let on that a CPM Rajya Sabha MP had assured him of his party’s participation in the panel.

Nath said the CPM had even sounded him out on who its representative would be.

’Brien is now going to town over how CPM MP T.K. Rangarajan made a “forceful” plea in the upper House for a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe (as against a JPC).

Ironically, an hour later, Rangarajan’s name appeared as the seventh on a list with that many members who would be part of the latest JPC.

So what prompted the double back? The fear that the protests were identified with the “communal” BJP?

CPM MP Sitaram Yechury’s explanation was: “How can anybody say no to a JPC when you are a member of Parliament? It is patently undemocratic.”

The implication was the impending JPC was not about to lead to a tectonic shift in the fight against graft. “A JPC is normally formed when policy issues are involved (as in the 2G spectrum allocation). This case only involves a criminal investigation,” he said. “What does a JPC do, except monitor the investigation?”

’Brien emphasised that Trinamul’s walkout was on a “point of principle”. “…indeed, I was the first,” he said.

“The deputy chairperson gave everybody a chance to speak. I said the government should look at the history of the JPCs and their track record of sweeping scams under the carpet. We want the truth out in a time-bound manner. After this, all Trinamul MPs walked out,” he added. “Shivanand Tiwary of (the) JD(U) was the first to follow us.”

Trinamul’s stand was bolstered by its refusal to associate itself with the larger Opposition demand that the JPC ought to be helmed by Arun Jaitley, the Rajya Sabha Opposition leader, and not a Congress MP if the findings were to be “fair and objective”.

Three unattached parties — the Biju Janata Dal, the AIADMK and the TDP — also raised the demand.

When the JPC proposal was floated, Congress sources had said the idea was to “isolate” the BJP and expose its alleged duplicity, manifest in the hold-up of an entire session because the government would not grant a similar committee to examine the 2G. “Now when we unilaterally offered a JPC, the BJP gets cussed. What does it want?” asked Kamal Nath.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said it was “wrong” to compare the situation with the JPC on the 2G scam. “It is a totally different situation here when there is no FIR and no court monitoring…. JPC without an FIR and without court monitoring is humbug.”