New Delhi, Nov. 21: Dirt is flying thick and fast in the last mile of the Assembly polls, making the stretch one of the most acrimonious in electoral history.
The Congress today created a flutter by publicly naming six ministers in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government who allegedly “milked” public sector units, despite keeping their identity under wraps when a memorandum was submitted to the President a few hours ago.
The Congress disclosure came less than a week after the cash-on-disc scandal erupted on Union minister Dilip Singh Judeo, costing him his job and prompting the Prime Minister to target Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi in election rallies.
The Congress said its charges are documented by the Central Vigilance Commission.
Speculation was rife that when central vigilance commissioner P. Shanker met Prime Minister Vajpayee on October 16, he “either orally or in writing” referred to the involvement of the six ministers.
The Congress demanded the ministers’ immediate resignation from the council of ministers and a parliamentary probe into their conduct. The party said that in power, the six could withhold documents and “hijack” the probe; only a parliamentary panel could summon all papers.
A high-level party delegation called on President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam this afternoon and submitted a memorandum seeking presidential intervention in the matter. The memo, however, did not have the names of the ministers.
The Congress appears to have got the meat for its allegation from a Telugu daily, which today revealed the names of the six ministers.
But Congress spokesperson Jaipal Reddy claimed that the party had “definite information” through its channels about the involvement of the ministers.
Reddy said the delegation got additional information after meeting the President. “So, we did not ask for their resignation in the memo which only sought a parliamentary probe. But, after getting more information on the scam, we are demanding their resignation. We brought the newspaper reports to the notice of the President.”
“The Prime Minister should not hesitate to perform the surgical operation. The involved ministers cannot remain in the government as they are under a cloud,” he added.
Caught unawares, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said: “It was the Congress’ bankruptcy to go to the President with a plea based on gossip. The entire memorandum depended upon gossip.”
One of the ministers named by the Congress and the daily has slapped a legal notice on the newspaper, saying that unless an apology is published in tomorrow’s edition, defamation proceedings would be initiated.
Two of the ministers described as “baseless” Congress allegations that they had demanded money from public sector firms under their charge for the party.
“This is a baseless allegation. After the Prime Minister and the central vigilance commissioner having said that no names were discussed (when the latter met Vajpayee reportedly on the issue of ministers asking PSUs money for party funds), to raise the issue on the basis of one news item in one newspaper, shows that the Congress is losing ground and they have no other issue to go to people for election,” one of the ministers named said.
“I have not committed any impropriety.... No one has ever dared to point a finger at me. If someone mentions my name, I will not tolerate this,” another said. Asked about the reasons for being named, he said: “It is political. Allegations were being levelled as polls are near.”
Kalam gave a patient hearing for about half-an-hour and took note of all the points the party leaders made, Reddy said.
The memo said “the Congress has sought a parliamentary probe into the allegations because, experience shows that only parliamentary committees are endowed with the authority to ferret out wrong-doing.”