Saturday, October 1, 2011


30 Sept 2011

Behind the scene flurry of activities in New York and in New Delhi

NEW DELHI: A drama of resignation played out by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee lies behind Congress President Sonia Gandhi scampering on Thursday to make Home Minister P Chidambaram enter into an uneasy truce with him to stave off a crisis in the UPA Government.

As late as on Wednesday, Mukherjee wanted to step down. He conveyed it to Sonia Gandhi by adding two lines to the 4-page explanatory note to the Prime Minister he forwarded to her, stressing that he wants to resign for above reasons as it is highly taxing for him to continue in the government and that he has already conveyed this to the PM.

He had, in fact, gone to New York to convey to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh his decision to resign on Sunday. The resignation news was, however, under wraps by the diplomatic staff led by the 63-year old India's ambassador Nirupama Rao, a former foreign secretary who pleaded and persuaded him to hold back any such announcement.

She immediately got in touch with the 62-year old Omita Paul, a former Indian Information Service (IIS) officer who took voluntary retirement in 2002 and who commands good influence on him as his adviser since 2004 in whichever ministry he moved -- defence, external affairs and now finance.

Rest of the credit should go to Paul, wife of a former Delhi Police Commissioner, for persuading Mukherjee not to rock the UPA boat by resigning in a huff. She took control over the situation in Delhi, dug out the file of the controversial 2G note and dashed off faxes to Mukherjee in Washington to assure her that the disputed sentence against Chidambaram was not put in it by the finance ministry.

On reaching Delhi on Monday, Mukherjee drove straight to his office in the North Block to go through the entire file of some 450 pages and went to call on Sonia Gandhi only after Omita Paul cooled him further by pointing out that he is not responsible for the objectionable line against Chidambaram added by someone in the PMO before passing on the information on a RTI (right to information) application.

She had also kept ready a 4-page chronological explanatory note that Mukherjee sent over to the Prime Minister and a copy of it to Sonia Gandhi. He deliberately delayed his meeting with the Prime Minister until on Thursday to ensure he has read the note and understood that he is not to be blamed but it is the PMO that messed up and created an unnecessary crisis.

Sources say Dr Manmohan Singh was quite upset when he summoned his principal secretary TKA Nair and national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon immediately after Mukherjee had left his New York hotel to convey to them the shocking development of his resignation. The PM also put out a call to Sonia Gandhi to share his concern that it is not only Chidambaram who wants to resign but even Mukherjee threatened to quit, only agreeing not to make it public until he (PM) is back from New York.

The Damocles's sword of the Supreme Court remains hanging on Chidambaram until October 10 when it resumes hearing, after the Dussehra vacation, on Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy's petition to order CBI to probe against him. Sources in Mukherjee's camp say he would also not close the matter until the culprit who added remark on Chidambaram creating a suspicion on him is not identified and punished.

But for Sonia Gandhi and her political secretary Ahmed Patel making quick moves to bury the infight, the Prime Minister would have been left with no choice but to accept resignation of his top two ministers. They heeded the party's directive to bury the hatchets, but both remain suspicious of each other as ever.


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