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BJP coal fire threatens Cong ‘vote-catchers’

- Key bills face being blocked in Parliament

New Delhi, April 23: The BJP today appeared to adopt a stall-Parliament line over coal allocations and an alleged reference to the “Vajpayee-era” by the JPC report on the 2G scandal, a move that could block bills seen as potential vote-winners for the UPA.

The main Opposition party demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the sacking of law minister Ashwani Kumar over the coal block allocations.

A statement by Sonia Gandhi rejecting calls for the Prime Minister’s resignation seemed to have prompted the BJP to harden its stand with the “stall Parliament” strategy at a meeting of party MPs before today’s House sitting.

A speech by MP Yashwant Sinha was believed to have pushed the party towards the tough position. Sinha, referring to Sonia’s response, asked why the BJP should not play hard ball when the Congress chief had done so.

Sinha pointed out that the coal issue had gathered steam again following claims that Kumar’s ministry had tinkered with a CBI affidavit on the allocations to be submitted to the apex court. He felt the BJP should not pass up the opportunity.

The stance could jeopardise the food security, land acquisition, pension and insurance reform legislations lined up by the Centre for passage in the second part of the budget session that has less than two weeks left. The bills are seen as having the potential to improve the Congress-led UPA’s image ahead of next year’s polls.

“The Prime Minister and the law minister have blatantly interfered in the functioning of the CBI while investigating the coal block allocation scam. The UPA government first indulges in corruption and then subverts institutions to suppress the truth. It has forfeited its right to govern,” said a BJP statement issued after the meeting.

Hours later, party MPs rushed to the well of the Lok Sabha, along with Trinamul members who railed against alleged step-motherly treatment to Bengal, to demand Singh’s resignation and did not allow the House to function.

The Opposition party also picked on alleged references to the “Atal Bihari Vajpayee-era” in the draft JPC report on 2G and said the party would not tolerate “unfounded” allegations against its tallest leader.

“All BJP MPs have been deeply disturbed by the unfounded allegations levelled against Vajpayeeji,” party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said, rejecting JPC chairman and Congress leader P.C. Chacko’s denials.

“When you refer to then Prime Minister in 1998-99, then anybody can guess who was the PM then,” Prasad the deputy leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha, added.

Asked whether the BJP would support the insurance reform legislation, which it has backed in the past with some riders, Prasad suggested the onus was on the Centre. “The obligation to run the government rests with the government. It is not a one-way traffic.”

Sources said the BJP was in election mode, anticipating the possibility of early polls, possibly at the year-end. After the stalled first two days of the second leg of this session, the party feels the UPA government is under siege and it would be foolish not to use the opportunity to corner it further.

The BJP had demanded Singh’s resignation over the coal block allocations in the monsoon session last year. It abandoned the theme in the winter session and moved to other issues.