Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has come under cloud after Team Anna’s allegation of corruption against him in the allocation of coal blocks during Nov 2006 to May 2009, when he was in charge of the coal ministry.
Team Anna that is led by the self-styled Gandhian activist Anna Hazare, has alleged that "under Dr Singh’s watch a major coal allocation scam took place which allowed private firms to make windfall gains." It cited portions of a draft CAG report to level charges against the Prime Minister.
“It is unfortunate that irresponsible allegations relating to irregularities in allocation of coal blocks are being made based on leaked portions of a draft CAG report.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh responded to the allegations made against him and said, “If there is any iota of truth and if allegations are proved against me, I will give up my public life,”
“My long public career as Finance Minister, as leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha and now as Prime Minister has been an open book. If found guilty in the coal scam I will quit."
“At the same time, the public should make up its mind whether this kind of politics will rule the roost in India," Dr Singh said.
The Prime Minister Office too reacted through a statement; "The coal minister has given factual details in response to these allegations and the coal ministry has put up all the information on website. The government will submit its detailed factual response before the PAC as per constitutional procedure," it said
Commenting on Manmohan Singh’s reaction, Team Anna’s member Arvind Kejriwal clarified, it was not they who came with charges against him but it was in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on coal bloc allocations.
Kejriwal said he would like to ask the Prime Minister whether he considered "irresponsible" the CAG report which is pegging a loss of Rs. 1.80 lakh crore to the exchequer in the allocation of coal blocs.
"We will be most happy if the allegation leveled against the Prime Minister is found false. But how will it be proved? For that we need to have an independent investigating agency to probe it," he said.
On Singh’s remarks that the public should make up its mind whether Team Anna’s kind of politics will rule the roost in India, Kejriwal said, they do not do politics.
"We are just common people who are affected by corruption and price rise. We oppose the kind of politics prevailing in the country. Today’s politics is snatching the food from the children, forcing farmers to commit suicide when some ministers are given permission to indulge in scams and get richer," he said.
Following attempts of Team Anna to drag Prime Minister into charges of corruption, some differences have cropped up within the members.
Former Karnataka Lokayukta, Santosh Hegde distanced himself from the charges against the Prime Minister saying it is "extremely difficult" to believe that allegations raised by Team Anna against Dr. Singh could exist but demanded an inquiry if there are material evidence to suggest that some wrongdoing was done.
Justice Hegde also disapproved of the language used by the Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan against the Prime Minister.
Even Anna Hazare appeared to be unhappy from his group’s move to target the Prime Minister whom he described as ‘honest man’ and has sought clarifications on this.
His team members have played down the differences claiming that documents were being translated in Hindi for the perusal of the Gandhian activist.
Congress jolted by the allegation targeting Manmohan Singh, dared Team Anna to approach the police and take legal recourse instead of going to media and playing to the gallery.
“If you make allegations against somebody, then there is a law and order mechanism in the country. You go to police and register an FIR instead of making allegations through media. Law will take its own course," Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said.
He rejected the demand for an independent probe into the charges, saying, "it is not possible that anybody makes allegation and you set up an inquiry.”
The Congress spokesperson said it was "unfortunate" to use such "uncivil" language against the Prime Minister.
"The Prime Minister of the country does not belong to only one particular party. He is Prime Minister of the whole country. It is everybody’s responsibility to honor him. The honor of the country is linked with the honor of the Prime Minister," Alvi said.
Team Anna has indicted 14 other Ministers in the Union Cabinet, demanding investigations against them in matters of corruption. The self styled crusader against corruption in the country has threatened to launch an indefinite fast from July 25.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com