Pranab denies rift with PM

Kolkata: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Sunday denied a rift with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the latter`s offer to appear before the Public Accounts Committee on the 2G spectrum issue.

"It is wrong to state that there have been differences of opinion between me and the PM on his offer to appear before the PAC. I have said though Prime Minister had offered to appear before PAC, I would not have done so.

"I had also given an example that ministers did not appear before any parliamentary committee. This is because the parliamentary committees are part, while Parliament is the whole," he said.

"Ministers have personal responsiblity to be answerable to Parliament and not before a part. If someone does not understand this what can I do?" he asked.

"The Prime Minister has offered to appear before PAC to resolve the deadlock in Parliament. This is not a matter of difference between the prime minister and finance minister."

Asked how he expected the logjam in Parliament to end with the budget session of Parliament ahead, Mukherjee said he was grateful to Speaker Meira Kumar for holding two meetings to end the Parliament logjam.

"In the last meeting a suggestion was made that I as the Leader of the House should continue the exercise so that the impasse that has been created is resolved. I shall try to do that. I hope that the budget session will run smoothly."

Referring to the winter session washed out on 2G scam, he said "What has happened is distortion. Distortion is temporary and normal functioning is permanent."

The Finance Minister said that he was a "conservative who believed in following rules of the House".

"Why does a minister not appear before a Parliamentary Committee. The reason is simple. A minister is answerable to the House (Lok Sabha) or to the Assembly… to 543 members in Lok Sabha or in case of West Bengal Assembly to the 294 members.

"A person is a minister because the party he represents has the support of at least 272 Lok Sabha members …. and they are all behind the Prime Minister. They (ministers) are only accountable to the whole House and not to a part of the House," Mukherjee said.

He said there was only one precedence when Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister had appeared before the Joint Parliamentary Committee in the Harshad Mehta stock market scam of 1992.

As news channels ran reports on his comments, Mukherjee in the evening sought to clarify the position, denying any rift with the Prime Minister.

"It is wrong to state that there have been differences of opinion between me and the PM on his offer to appear before the PAC. I have said though PM had offered to appear before PAC, I would not have done so.

"I had also given an example that ministers did not appear before any parliamentary committee. This is because the parliamentary committees are part, while Parliament is the whole," he said.

"Ministers have personal responsiblity to be answerable to Parliament and not before a part. If someone does not understand this what can I do?" he asked.

"The Prime Minister has offered to appear before PAC to resolve the deadlock in Parliament. This is not a matter of difference between the prime minister and finance minister."

Asked how he expected the logjam in Parliament to end with the budget session of Parliament ahead, he said he was grateful to Speaker Meira Kumar for holding two meetings with the ruling party and the principal opposition.

"In the last meeting a suggestion was made that I as the Leader of the House should continue the exercise so that the impasse that has been created is resolved. I shall try to do that. I hope that the budget session will run smoothly."

Referring to the washed out winter session over the demand for JPC into 2G spectrum issue, he said "What has happened is distortion. Distortion is temporary and normal functioning is permanent."

On December 20, Singh, during the Congress plenary in Delhi, had said he was ready to appear before the PAC in the 2G spectrum issue as he had nothing to hide, after the opposition had stalled Parliament`s Winter Session over the demand for a JPC.

PAC Chairman Joshi, who belongs to the BJP, had not ruled out accepting the Prime Minister`s offer, saying a decision on the issue will be taken after consulting legal experts.

Congress had described PM`s offer as a "masterstroke" that was "brave and extraordinary".

Rejecting the JPC demand, Mukherjee asked, "What is the need for a JPC? It is not in Lok Sabha rules. JPC is not a court or an investigative agency. It does not have the power to punish the guilty.

"Let the opposition say why a JPC is needed but we will explain why it is not needed. The Prime Minister is not scared. He himself is open to being questioned," the Finance Minister said.

Following up on his public statement at the Congress plenary, the Prime Minister had sent a letter to Joshi in which he had stated that he was willing to appear before the PAC, should the Committee choose to seek clarifications from him "though I believe there is no no precedent of the Prime Minister appearing before a PAC".

If the PAC accepts the offer, it will be the first time that a Prime Minister would have appeared before the Committee, which has MPs from both the Houses belonging to parties of the ruling coalition and the opposition.

"The PAC cannot call a minister. It can call officials, secretaries and individuals. But as I have made clear, the Prime Minister`s case is different as he has himself offered to appear. We will have to discuss the issue with the constitutional experts before taking a decision," Joshi had said after receiving the letter.

Reacting to Mukherjee`s remarks, BJP spokesperson Ravi shankar Prasad said in Delhi, "the country is certainly entitled to know if the No.2 of the Cabient of mamnomhan Singh is not in agreement with him, then on what basis is the PM claiming that his offer to appear before the PAC can ensure a fair investigation into the 2G spectrum issue."

CPI today asked Congress to explain its stand on the issue. CPI national secertary D Raja wondered whether there is any collective functioning in the UPA government.

"Singh made the offer in an AICC session, a party forum not in Parliament or in any government forum. So is it the Congress party stand or Prime Minister is taking a different stand from the party? Or is it Pranab Mukherjee has said a differnt thing from what Singh has said?

"Each one has his stand. What is the collective functioning of the government. It is for them to explain to the country and its people," he said.