M A I N   N E W S

Partymen for Natwar’s ouster
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 4
External affairs minister and senior Congress leader K. Natwar Singh may have secured the support of the Left parties, but a sizeable section of his own partymen are mounting pressure for his removal ever since he was named a beneficiary of Iraqi oil deals by a UN committee report.

The overwhelming view in the party, which apparently has the endorsement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is that the disclosures in the Volcker committee report on UN’s the Oil-for-Food programme during Saddam Hussein’s regime, have rendered Mr Natwar Singh’s position untenable.

The whisper campaign against Mr Natwar Singh has further picked up after the PMO’s announcement that it will get to the bottom of this controversy, indicating that an internal inquiry could be held to probe this issue. The question now doing the rounds is whether Mr Natwar Singh can continue as minister once such a probe gets underway.

“After all, public perception is also important,” remarked a senior Congress leader, indicating that it was preferred if Mr Natwar Singh stepped down voluntarily.

Officially, however, the government is backing the minister. In fact, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, who has been entrusted with the task of scrutinising the Volcker report and getting further details from the author, told a group of journalists today that Mr Natwar Singh was not stepping down.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, it is learnt, is also not favourably inclined on his removal. The party is faced with another dilemma. Since the Congress has also been named a beneficiary, any decision to remove Mr Natwar Singh will render the party equally vulnerable as it will mean that it accepts the validity of the report.

The Congress has not just rejected the charge but also demanded an apology for its inclusion in the report, failing which it has threatened legal action against the UN.

On the other hand, Mrs Gandhi may find it difficult to continue with her support if an impression gains ground that Mr Natwar Singh is not being removed in order to protect the Congress. In such a scenario, Congress insiders maintain, the party may be left with little choice but to “sacrifice” the minister.

As it is, the Congress official formulation on this issue has made a clear distinction between the party and the minister leaving the minister to defend himself.

With disclosures on the payoffs in the Iraqi oil deals still trickling in and the opposition waiting to put the Congress on the mat in the coming Parliament session, there are tense days ahead for the Manmohan Singh government.


PM may skip SAARC meeting in Dhaka
Subhrangshu Gupta

Kolkata, November 4
Uncertainty prevails over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s proposed visit to Bangladesh for a two-day SAARC meeting at Dhaka, following the recent blasts in the Capital. The meeting will begin on November 12.

The Volcker Committee’s report implicating Foreign Minister Natwar Singh in the Iraq’s oil-for-food programme scandal has also added to the crisis. Sources close to the Prime Minister said he would be busy preparing for the next Parliament session beginning from November 23. He would also be busy in trying to resolve the crisis faced by the government following the Foreign Minister’s alleged involvement.

If he did go to Dhaka, his visit would be brief. If the Prime Minister failed to attend the meeting, the Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, would represent the country on behalf of the Prime Minister.

The meeting was to be held a year ago but had been postponed following the cancellation of Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit in the wake of the spurt of terrorist activities in Bangladesh. India’s Foreign Secretary, Mr Syam Saran, will be leading an official delegation to Dhaka prior to the meeting on November 10.

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