The fresh remarks made by comptroller and auditor general (CAG) Vinod Rai against the UPA dispensation today triggered a war of words, with the government attacking him and the opposition throwing its weight behind him.
Slamming Rai for criticising the government on foreign soil, information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said constitutional authorities should circumscribe by "Lakshman Rekha propriety".
"...it is most unfortunate that CAG rather than validating the integrity of his numbers (on 2G presumptive loss of Rs1.76 lakh crore) chooses to criticise the government on foreign soil and at a foreign fora," Tewari told reporters in Chennai.
He was responding when asked to comment on Rai's remarks at Harvard Kennedy School yesterday, during which he suggested that the government was trying to reduce the audit watchdog to a mere accountant.
Leaders of opposition parties supported the CAG, with BJP charging the Congress with "misusing" constitutional authorities for its own political gains and said those who did not toe its line were termed as ones working for the opposition.
"Congress party has been a history-sheeter of misusing constitutional authorities for their own political benefits and using them as a shield to hide their own misdeeds. Congress party has been targeting constitutional authorities and forcing them to work according to its own needs, party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.
Rai had yesterday said, "Should we as public auditors limit our role to placing reports in Parliament or go beyond that and seek to sensitise public opinion on our audit observations especially so in social sector audits such as rural health, primary education, water pollution, environment, drinking water etc."
Tewari said this was not the first time he (the CAG) had done it (criticising the government). "I think constitutional authorities, you know, should circumscribe by the Lakshman Rekha propriety," he said.
Naqvi said, "Since the current CAG did not yield to this government's blackmailing, hence he was charged as one working at the behest of BJP."
CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said it was unfortunate that the CAG is being criticised and lamented that there is a decline in standards of political behaviour.
"It is very unfortunate. There is a decline in standards of politcal behaviour. This steady decline in the past that we have been seeing is accelerated in Bengal," Yechury said.
CPI leader D Raja said there has been a tendency with the government and ruling party to criticise and undermine the CAG ever since it came out with reports alluding to scams.
"I understand the anguish or the concern expressed by the CAG because ever since CAG came out with its reports on 2G, CWG and allotment of coal blocks, there has been a tendency with the government and the ruling party to blame CAG and undermine CAG and asking CAG that it is going beyond its mandate. So it is they who are trying to undermine the CAG," Raja said.
Criticising those who attacked the CAG, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav said, "It is condemnable. The CAG is the accountant of the government who keeps a record of all the nation's wealth. If someone points a finger at CAG, then it is wrong."
Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said the CAG's role is defined in the Constitution and all should work according to their defined role.
"He (CAG) is an accountant and remains one. Does he want to become Prime Minister," Singh said taking a dig at Rai.
Singh also said, "If the judiciary does the work of the Executive, the CAG makes the Police and Civil Society makes laws, then how will the democracy function."
Rebutting criticism that the official auditor was exceeding its mandate, Rai had yesterday said that it was treading a "new path in the belief that the final stakeholder is the public at large".
He had said the CAG would endeavour to uncover instances of crony capitalism and counselled the government to support enterprises per se and not entrepreneurs.
"We may not be able to wipe out corruption, but our endeavour is to uncover instances of crony capitalism. Government should be seen to support enterprise per se and not particular entrepreneurs," Rai, who has come under government criticism for reports on various scams like in telecom and coal, had said.