The Opposition on Monday made a scathing attack on the government and Congress in the Lok Sabha over the Volcker report on the Iraqi oil pay-offs. It alleged that the scam involved not merely corruption but willingness to 'trade (the) country's sovereignty and decision-making independence'.
Initiating a discussion on the adjournment motion moved by him on the issue, Leader of the Opposition L K Advani ridiculed the ruling party's claims that the Volcker Committee report was an attempt to tarnish Congress.
Insisting that Volcker and members of his Independent Inquiry Committee, constituted by the United Nations, were 'leaders' in their respective fields, he wondered how the Committee could have been interested to malign Congress and its functionaries.
Noting that Congress president Sonia Gandhi took three weeks to express her indignation on the issue, Advani said the initial response of K Natwar Singh, who was named as 'non-contractual beneficiary', along with Congress, by the Committee, was that the revelations were 'all bullshit and lies'.
The Bharatiya Janata Party president also made a strong plea for a discussion on the Mitrokhin Archives II document. He said this was necessary as the matter 'relates to vulnerability of Indian politics, politicians and political parties (and the) lure of big money'.
Earlier, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee rejected the Opposition demand for tabling in the House, all documents collected by special envoy Virendra Dayal from the Volcker Committee, noting that the Justice Pathak Inquiry Authority, probing the issue, has already started its work.
Asserting that the United Progressive Alliance coalition should have accepted the Volcker report 'with grace', Advani said the initial response of the Congress, as also the government, after the scam broke out, did not enhance the reputation of the party or the country.
He said there were expectations all around after the Volcker report became public that Natwar Singh, who was holding External Affairs Ministry then, would resign immediately.
The Leader of the Opposition claimed that the Inquiry Authority, headed by Justice R S Pathak, had not been given all powers under the Commission of Inquiry Act.
Noting Gandhi's suspicion that someone might have misused the name of her party, the BJP chief said naming of Congress in the report was 'not good' for the party, as the Opposition was bound to take advantage.
Amid protests from the Left, Advani was caustic to them, saying they did not even demand a probe into the matter in which some half a dozen communist parties in other parts of the world were involved.
In a strong defence of the government, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi said the allegations against the Congress party and Natwar Singh were 'unverified', as neither any notice was served on them nor was their response incorporated in the Volcker report.
Drawing parallels between the Volcker findings and the Jain Hawala diaries, in which Advani himself was named, he said both were mere allegations.
Dasmunsi said the UPA government appointed the Virender Dayal Committee and the R S Pathak Committee to go into the root of the issue within eight days of the Volcker findings becoming public. "No country in the world did it," he said, adding the UPA government also ordered the Enforcement Directorate to probe any Foreign Exchange Management Act violation.
He reminded the NDA that while the UPA government was quick to act and even accepted an adjournment motion, the then Vajpayee government did not agree even for a short duration discussion when the Tehelka expose became public and, instead, chose to witchhunt those who carried out the sting operation.
Even as Advani reminded Dasmunsi that the House should not cast aspersions on a UN-appointed Committee, the Minister sought to know who supplied the documents on the basis of which the panel made its findings. He asked why then Petroleum minister Ram Naik did not take action against businessmen who 'flouted the laws'.
Justifying the surcharge levied by the Saddam Hussein regime on Iraqi oil, Rupachand Pal (CPM) alleged a 'pattern in the accusations' and alleged they were made against those who 'opposed sanctions and invasions'.
NDA convenor George Fernandes alleged that all evidences regarding the Volcker report had been concealed by the government and regretted what could be said in the absence of these papers.
His repeated remarks that top functionaries of the Congress were involved in the pay-offs sparked protests, leading to noisy scenes in the House. Fernandes said taking only the name of Natwar Singh and not naming the second person was not justified.
He said there was a close relationship between Congress and the alleged pay-offs brought out in the Volcker report.
Defence Minister and senior Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee said naming top functionaries of the Congress by Fernandes was nothing but a 'personal vendetta'.
"Picking up one name from the entire Congress Party is nothing but a personal vendetta," Mukherjee said. Fernandes demanded that legal action must be taken against those involved in the pay-offs.
Mohan Singh (SP) opposed the motion but said naming of the Congress in the report had tarnished India's image. He criticised Natwar Singh's utterances after the Volcker report became public.
Brajkishor Tripathi (BJD) demanded a CBI enquiry into the pay-offs. Intervening in the debate, Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer said he was 'intrigued' by the wordings of the Opposition motion, as they wanted to 'condemn an allegation'.
Observing that the Opposition was prompted by 'vendetta and not a cause' in raising the matter, Aiyer said they wasted three days to debate an issue relating to allegations by disrupting the House proceedings.
C K Chandrappan (CPI) asked the government to include in the ambit of the probe former Petroleum Minister Ram Naik's statement after his return from Iraq that he was there to promote Indian business interests. Naik had also handed over then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's letter to Saddam Hussain at that time.
He said the UPA government had done 'more than justice' to the Volcker panel report, which had been rejected by several world governments, by instituting a probe.
Harin Pathak (BJP) alleged that some accused persons, who were questioned by Enforcement Directorate, had telephonic discussions with persons close to Natwar Singh the day the media reported the Volcker findings.
Lalmani Prasad (BSP), Madhusudan Mistry and Mohammed Salim (CPI-M) opposed the motion, while Anant Geete (Shiv Sena), Uday Singh (BJP) and M Jagannath (TDP) supported it.