SONIA REBUFF LEAVES
PC HIGH AND DRY
By Kay Benedict in New Delhi
PM and Pranab hold crisis meeting in New York on 2G while the Congress chief has no time for Chidambaram
THE home minister P. Chidambaram on Saturday found himself left high and dry with the Congress president Sonia Gandhi declining to grant him an audience.
Party circles interpreted Sonia’s disinclination to meet Chidambaram before discussing the issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee as his growing isolation in the faction- ridden Congress.
The PM and the finance minister will return from the US on Tuesday.
Sources said Sonia, who has taken a dim view of the latest twist in the 2G row, would discuss the ramification of the controversy with the Big- 3 and then formulate a strategy to counter the Opposition attack.
The rebuff appeared to be a sudden reversal of fortunes for Chidambaram as only two days ago the PM and the Congress had gone all out to shield him from the Opposition’s onslaught, giving the impression of unity within.
The present crisis is a fall- out of the finance ministry’s memorandum to the PMO sent early this year, which said that as the then finance minister Chidambaram could have prevented the controversial 2G spectrum allocation.
The memorandum was accessed through an RTI application and filed before the Supreme Court. Pranab Mukherjee didn’t help matters when he confirmed in Washington that the finance ministry did send the memo to the PMO. Soon after the finance ministry’s memo dated March 25, 2011, which was vetted by Pranab Mukherjee, suggesting that Chidambaram and former telecom minister A. Raja had jointly determined the price for 2G spectrum hit headlines on Wednesday, the home minister spoke to the Prime Minister New York over phone and offered to quit.
Singh, however, reposed full faith in Chidambaram and told him to wait till his return.
A section of the Congress leadership believes that Chidambaram is likely to resign when the PM returns to the Capital.
They feel that the finance ministry’s note was a direct attack on the then finance minister Chidambaram for his role in the spectrum scam.
A Congress politician, who is closely following the 2G spectrum issue, said Chidambaram should take responsibility of the content of the controversial note. “ This is the only note which implicates someone.
All the other notes had some points that could be defended. Someone at the top, either the PM, who asked for the note, the finance minister, who sent the note or the home minister who has been implicated in the note should take responsibility,” the Congress leader said.
A party source said the question of the home minister’s resignation would arise only if the Supreme Court directed the CBI to probe his role in the scam. However, he could step down on moral grounds.
Officially, the party defended all three — the PM, Pranab and Chidambaram and insisted that the matter is sub judice. Besides, the JPC too investigating the scam.
Strongly backing Chidambram, AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh said the RSS had made the home minister a target for speeding investigations in the terror cases involving people from the Sangh Pariwar.
There was concern in party circles that with senior BJP leader L. K. Advani launching his anti- corruption rath yatra next month, the BJP would utilise the fresh controversy to intensify its campaign against the UPA government.
Both the party and the government continued to face intense Opposition fire.
The Opposition persisted with its demand for the scalp of the home minister for the second day on Saturday.
The BJP and the CPM meanwhile upped the ante suggesting that the PM himself is answerable.
fresh controversy buffeted the government after the publication of a letter written by the former telecom minister Dayanidhi Maran to the PM seeking dilution of the policy.
While none in the party doubts Chidambaram’s personal integrity, many of his colleagues both in the government and the Congress have ego hassles with the lawyer- economist.
Chidambaram’s position was weakened by a belligerent BJP that launched its sharpest ever attack on the government on Saturday. The saffron party fielded its senior leader Yashwant Sinha to announce that the home minister belongs in “ Tihar jail in the same cell as A. Raja” while the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too is “ complicit” in the scam.
Armed with the finance ministry’s March, 2011 office memo, the BJP were certain that they had come within striking distance of felling the mighty Congress minister.
Sinha left no doubts on that score.
“ It is quite clear that Chidambaram and his ministry took a stand in the allotment of spectrum policy in the beginning and completely went back on it later. At the same time, they have taken a laughable stand in the Supreme Court arguing against any investigation in Chidambaram’s role in 2G despite vast evidence of his complicity,” Sinha said.
“ We have no doubt he belongs to the same cell as A. Raja. The PM at the same time is protecting Chidambaram.
He is entirely complicit in the steps taken by the then finance minister ( Chidambaram) in the entire 2G scam. He ( PM) is entirely complicit,” he asserted.
AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh went out of his way to back the home minister. “ Chidambaram is a man of integrity and competence, there is no question of any allegations against him. If there have been losses to the Centre on account of 2G spectrum allocation, it should also be not forgotten that the NDA government had changed the policy of allotment of telecom circles through competitive tendering introduced by the late Narasimha Rao government,” he said.
He said if BJP’s logic is followed then they ( former BJP ministers) should also go to Tihar jail for changing the policy.
Another AICC general secretary said the finance ministry’s memo was a routine communication and the Opposition was making a mountain out of a molehill.
Sources said Mukherjee himself would clarify once he returns to Delhi. “ There was nothing wrong if a formulation by an official on the issue was sent by the finance ministry to the PMO. Any ministry has every right to formulate an opinion on an issue. Opinions are given. The finance minister did not send the forwarded letter. Of course, he did not stop the letter from being sent to the PMO. He should not have even stopped it,” the sources said.
WILL PC RESIGN?
A section of Congress leaders believe that Chidambaram will resign when the Prime Minister returns to the Capital. Singh, however, reposed full faith in him