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Blackmail is BJP's political bread and butter: Sonia

The war over the Coalgate scam escalated yesterday with the BJP refusing to give up its demand for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ouster and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi charging the BJP with blackmail.

With Congress and BJP leaders taking on each other, the BJP’s adamant refusal to let parliament function until Manmohan Singh bowed out crippled both houses for the sixth straight day.

A day after the BJP accused the Congress of taking kickbacks by giving away coal blocks to private parties, Gandhi jumped into the fray and asked her MPs to aggressively fight the ‘intemperate Congress bashing’.

“The proper forum for (a debate) is an active and involved parliament, not one that is held to ransom by blackmail, which has become the bread and butter of the BJP, much to the concern of some of its allies,” she said at a meeting of her MPs.

Taking on the BJP
With Gandhi setting the tone, her Congress colleagues took on the BJP aggressively. The political crisis was triggered by a report of official auditor CAG alleging that the allocation of coal blocks mainly to private players without auction had caused huge losses to the exchequer.

The government and the Congress have denied the charge. While, Manmohan Singh called the CAG report flawed on Monday, a Comptroller and Auditor General official said they stood by the report and would respond ‘at the appropriate time’. The BJP’s insistence on not letting parliament function till Manmohan Singh goes doesn’t have the support of at least one of its allies and some others in the opposition. But the BJP refuses to change course.

Gandhi told her MPs that after the prime minister’s elaborate statement, there was no need for the Congress to be defensive. “We are now entering a period in which elections will consume much of our time,” she said of the upcoming state elections.

“We will not be deflected by intemperate Congress bashing by the opposition. Let us stand up and fight, fight with a sense of purpose and fight aggressively,” she said. She accused the BJP of showing scant respect for democratic values and for mocking the people of India ‘for the convincing mandate given to us’.

Won’t back down
However, the BJP remained unrelenting. Responding to Gandhi’s charge of ‘blackmail’, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said, “A government whose integrity has been painted black in the coal deals cannot be blackmailed.”

BJP chief spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad added, “We don’t need certificates of responsibility from the Congress. We want conduct of accountability from the government.”

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla underlined the point: “They (BJP) are running away from a debate. They are trying to save their chief ministers (from being exposed in parliament).”

On Tuesday, the alleged irregularities in coal block allocation held up both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, leading to their adjournment for the day after recess.

Indian PM arrives in Tehran
Indian PM Manmohan Singh arrived on Tuesday on a four-day visit during which he will attend the 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and hold a bilateral meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

Quote Unquote
A government whose integrity has been painted black in the coal deals cannot be blackmailed.
— Arun Jaitley, BJP leader

They (BJP) are running away from a debate. They are trying to save their chief ministers (from being exposed in parliament)
— Rajeev Shukla, Cong leader 

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