New Delhi, Nov. 12: The Congress leadership and the government appear to be extremely annoyed with minister V. Narayanasamy's purported claim that the Centre was actively considering converting the CAG into a multi-member body.
Although the minister said he was "misquoted" after PTI released the interview yesterday, the news agency stood by its report and described the change in stand as a "retraction".
The Congress thinks the damage has been done as the controversy has broken out days before what it apprehends could be a difficult Parliament session.
While the main Opposition BJP has grabbed the chance to present what it says is proof of the Congress's propensity to destroy institutions, what has caused concern in the government is the reaction of the Left and friendly outfits like the Samajwadi Party. They too suspected a plot to teach comptroller and auditor general Vinod Rai a lesson for his hostile reports on several controversies plaguing UPA II.
In the course of the interview, Narayanasamy was asked about the recommendation made by former CAG V.K. Shunglu that the CAG be made a multi-member body.
The government, the minister of state in the PMO had purportedly replied, is "actively considering" it.
He later claimed he had merely told the agency reporter that six Shunglu panel reports were under consideration and the reporter did not "specifically" ask him about the CAG.
The Congress moved fast to control the damage, with spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit clarifying that the government would not do anything in response to individual conduct and institutional necessities for such a change, if required, would be taken into consideration.
The government is alive to the possibility that this controversy could create an impression that the watchdog was being silenced.
A Congress leader pointed out that the row had erupted days after Rahul Gandhi advocated a transparent system, hailing the virtues of the Right to Information Act at the party's special Surajkund conclave.
"We never intended to weaken the institution of the CAG despite obvious disagreements with Vinod Rai. I am sure the Prime Minister, too, would have told off the minister for making that irresponsible remark," he said.
Other Congress leaders felt there was no need to discuss the matter openly as the government was not in a position to manage the requisite numbers for a constitutional amendment such a change would require.
Asked about the Congress's view on turning the CAG into a multi-member body, Dikshit said: "It is for the government to decide."
Stressing that the minister had already denied his reported statement, the spokesperson added: "(The) CAG is a companion of the government. There is no confrontational relationship though we disagree with some of the findings of the present CAG. But this does not mean the institution will be changed because of one person."
However, there seems to be different perceptions in the government. Information and broadcasting Minister Manish Tiwari, who avoided a direct comment on the controversy, said the multi-member experiment of the Election Commission had stood in "good stead over the decades".
Major political parties took the government to task. "The BJP takes serious objection to this disturbing attempt by the government.… We seriously apprehend that this remark of the minister is not an off-the-cuff remark," party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
SP general secretary Mohan Singh said: "I condemn Narayanasamy's remarks. People in responsible positions in government should avoid making comments against constitutional bodies.… We will not support such a proposal under any condition."
CPI national secretary D. Raja said the "timing" of the statement was questionable. "It is also deplorable. The CAG has exposed a number of major scams, which took place under the Congress-led UPA II. The CAG has done commendable work and everybody appreciates it. This government is neck-deep in corruption. Several ministers have been running down the CAG in the recent past. So these kinds of statements show that the intentions of the government are very much motivated."
CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said the CAG was a constitutional authority. "Any change in its composition or making it a multi-member body requires a constitutional amendment, which will require two-thirds support in both Houses (of Parliament) and all the legislative Assemblies. I don't think it is something which can really be ventured upon at this stage. Since the minister has retracted (his statement) subsequently, we shall wait to see what the government is really proposing."