Apparently stunned by its allies, the Centre decided on Monday to drop its move to name a judge to head the commission set up to probe the snooping of a young woman architect’s phone calls by the Gujarat police, allegedly at the instructions of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
Insiders, however, told dna, it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who put his foot down and apprised Congress President Sonia Gandhi, saying crucial decisions and appointments must now be left to the next government, as the country was approaching the last leg of its election process.
Singh, blamed for his weak-kneed approach and bending before the party high command on every issue, has for the past few days been asserting himself at the very end of his career. Among the decisions he put his foot down on, much to the chagrin of his party colleagues, include rejecting a proposal cleared by the Delhi NCR Planning Board at the instance of Union Minister Kamal Nath to change use of vast stretches of forest land in the outskirts of Delhi, stopping a $400 million FDI deal from Manhattan-based company Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), and also yielding to amend the rules to allow the search committee to identify eminent persons, including the Supreme Court and High Court judges, for the posts of the Chairman and members of the Lokpal.
On Monday, at the instance of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran submitted a letter from Minister of State for Personnel V Narayanasamy before the Supreme Court to give freedom to the search committee to consider any person other than persons included in the list of applicants provided by the government.
The Congress was left red-faced, however, at the government’s decision to drop the naming of a judge to head the commission to probe the snooping scandal to inquire into Gujrat chief minister and BJP’s PM nominee Modi. “We have left the decision on appointing a judge to the next government,” government sources said, a day after the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the National Conference (NC), allies of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), openly opposed the move. A controversy had broken out last week when union ministers Kapil Sibal and Sushilkumar Shinde told the media that a judge would be named to probe the scandal before May 16, the day poll counting takes place.
The party said it remains committed to appointing a judge for the judicial inquiry into the snooping scandal, but lamented that a two-month period was wasted, since the cabinet gave the go ahead to the appointment of the commission last December.
Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi snubbed a reporter wanting to know why the UPA government was hell-bent on the probe into what was a private matter. “No private matter. It's an issue of human rights violation through surveillance,” he said.
Further, yielding to the BJP demands that the search committee be allowed to identify eminent persons, for the posts of the chairman and members of the Lokpal rather inviting applications, Narayanasay letter states that many eminent persons may have reservations to submit applications to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), particularly since they hold pre-eminence of the positions and as such some of the best hands may be left out. Therefore, the government is considering a proposal to amend the Search Committee (Constitution, Terms and Conditions of appointment of members and the manner of selection of panel of names for appointment of Chairperson and Members of the Lokpal) Rules, 2014.
The announcement of snoop gate commission had also came under severe attack from the BJP. The BJP questioned the move saying the original decision of the cabinet was taken in December and they could not decide on a judge all these days. The party also questioned the need for such a probe when the state government itself had ordered a commission of inquiry into the same subject.
What actually made the government to retract was open defiance of its crucial allies. Significantly, the NCP chief Sharad Pawar talked to the Prime Minister, who is believed to have agreed with Pawar in the matter. Another ally, National Conference leader and Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, also struck a discordant note, saying if the decision to appoint a judge could not be taken in December, then it was wrong to appoint a judge five months later. “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 II is just wrong. If the decision to appoint a commission was taken in Dec it should have been implemented. To appoint a judge 5 months later is wrong,” Omar tweeted.