In a major embarrassment for the Congress, two of its key allies, the NCP and National Conference, on Sunday red-flagged the UPA government’s last-minute attempt to appoint a high court judge to head a panel to probe the snooping controversy allegedly involving BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
While NCP chief Sharad Pawar spoke to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to convey his reservations against the move, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took to Twitter to air the NC’s objections. The Prime Minister was learnt to have told Pawar that he “will talk” (with the Congress leadership), signalling the possibility of the government piping down on the issue.
NCP sources told The Indian Express that Pawar’s objection was meant to “caution” the Congress against “indulging in such kind of vendetta politics”. “We have just given a hidaayat (advice) that you (Congress) may have to pay dearly for such politics in future. It will rebound on you,” said a senior party leader.
“We had supported the original proposal (to institute a commission of inquiry). Why couldn’t they (government) do it so far? What is the point of doing it now, just before the elections?” said Union Minister and senior NCP leader Praful Patel.
Asked if the same logic could be applied to the government’s move to appoint a new Army Chief, which the BJP is objecting to, Patel said, “Appointment of an Army Chief is a regular process and the government is entitled to go ahead with it. What we are saying here (on the snooping row) is that it is not proper, we are not saying that it is illegal. Besides, first you said it would be a Supreme Court judge, now you want a sitting high court judge. You have to go back to the cabinet for this. It will take time and may go on till after May 12 (last day of polling). What’s the point of all this?” said Patel.
Earlier in the day, Omar Abdullah tweeted, “Was talking to my Dad last night and he felt the same way — setting up a commission of inquiry in the dying hours of UPA 2 is just wrong. If the decision to appoint a commission was taken in December, it should have been implemented. To appoint a judge five months later is wrong.”
He, however, made it clear that the Congress-NC ties would not be affected. “…Friends of the NDA/ BJP shouldn’t read more in this than necessary. NC has no intention of abandoning the UPA. The UPA is strong enough to allow for different points of view and opinions. We don’t have to agree with each other on every issue,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Congress seemed unruffled, saying it was not a new decision and allies were free to have their own opinion. The party said there would be “no compromise” on going ahead with the probe as the matter does not involve any political party but the women of the country.
While Union Law Minister Kapil Sibal, who had announced that a judge would be appointed before May 16, could not be reached, Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmed said, “It may be their opinion and view. But it is for the government to take a final decision. The decision (to set up a panel) was taken in December 2013 itself. Only the name of the judge is to be finalised and announced. It is not a new decision.”
Party spokesperson Sobha Oza said, “The issue is not a personal business of anyone. How does it matter (that a judge was not appointed so far)? There will be a commission and there will be a judge.”
The BJP, which has called the move a “mala fide” exercise to “target” Modi, applauded the NCP and NC. “It shows that UPA allies have found sense. They are seeing the truth. This is the politics of vendetta which is the specialty of Congress. Political parties do not want to get involved in it,” said BJP spokesperson M J Akbar.