On Board Air India One: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday said he “was not above the law” and was willing to be questioned by the CBI in the coal block allocations as he had “nothing to hide”.
In an affable mood after ending a two-nation tour to Russia and China, he also exuded confidence that Congress would “surprise” everyone and win the 2014 general elections and felt the BJP, despite its aggressive election campaign, would “peak early” and his “slow and steady” party would win the race. Manmohan Singh also hit out at Pakistan for the repeated ceasefire violations, saying he was “disappointed” as they were taking place despite an agreement to maintain peace at the border during his meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York last month.
The prime minister, who held the coal portfolio during the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2006, said he was “not above the law of the land”.
“If there is anything that the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) or, for that matter, anybody wants to ask, I have nothing to hide....”
In response, opposition parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been demanding Manmohan Singh be questioned by the CBI, expressed doubt whether he would fulfil his assurance.
“We have serious apprehensions he may not appear before CBI,” party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad told IANS, recalling how the prime minister offered but later refused to appear before the Parliamentary Accounts Committee probing the 2G spectrum allocations.
Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta termed the remark a “belated realisation” and “only a show”.
The issue came into sharp focus after the CBI filed an FIR against industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla, his company Hindalco and former coal secretary P C Parakh over two coal blocks in Odisha’s Talabira allocated in 2005.
Parakh pointed an accusing finger at the prime minister, saying if he was involved in the conspiracy, Manmohan Singh was equally responsible. The PMO promptly defended the allocations saying they were done on merit.
To a question on whether the scams and alleged wrongdoings, like the coal allocation issue, would “cast a shadow on his prime ministership”, Manmohan Singh said: “That is for history to judge.”
“I am doing my duty and will continue to do my duty. What impact my 10 years of prime ministership will have is for historians to judge,” he told reporters.
The prime minister, answering questions on a range of subjects while on way back from his tour, said the allegations of scams against the UPA government relate only to its first term and not to UPA-II.
In the 2009 general election, the Congress won “hands down”, he said, adding: “I am sure when the results of 2014 come out, the country will once again be surprised.” The prime minister also said that though the BJP may be perceived to be running ahead of the Congress with an aggressive election campaign but the “slow and steady” would win the race.