M A I N   N E W S

I will not quit, says Natwar
Sonia, PM discuss probe nature
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 5
Even as the Natwar Singh imbroglio connected with the UN oil-for-food programme in Iraq has pushed the Manmohan Singh government on the backfoot and energised the Opposition to bay for his ouster, the External Affairs Minister ruled out putting in his resignation as he categorically denied the allegations against him and the Congress.

Notwithstanding the brave front put up by Mr Natwar Singh that he will fight, UPA Chairperson and Congress President Sonia Gandhi met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh again today for half hour as the Opposition increased the ante and decided to meet President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to press for his dismissal from the government and threatened to hold countrywide protests.

This is Mrs Gandhi’s second meeting with Dr Manmohan Singh in two days and the discussions are said to have revolved on the line of action and the nature of the inquiry that the government wanted to conduct.

Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan also met the Prime Minister and discussed the modalities of probing the Volcker report.

Dr Manmohan Singh has held intense consultations with Mrs Gandhi and his senior ministerial colleagues over the past two days on dealing with the report and getting to the root of the problem. An informal high-powered three-member ministerial team of Union Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Mr Chidambaram is already looking into the report.

After mulling over matters, the Congress denied that Mrs Gandhi was linked to the scam. “The reports that Sonia Gandhi was involved in the scandal are absolutely false and baseless,” party general secretary Ambika Sonia told mediapersons here today.

Mr Mukherjee has argued that there is no question of Mr Natwar Singh resigning till the inquiry is completed and some illegality is found. He recalled that both Mr L.K. Advani and Mr Murli Manohar Joshi had not resigned even when chargesheets had been filed against them.

Nevertheless, there is growing unease in the government and Congress circles despite Dr Manmohan Singh and his core group discussing threadbare various scenarios, including asking Mr Natwar Singh to quit.

Sources said in the worst case scenario, Mr Natwar Singh could be asked to resign. The Ministry of External Affairs could be given the additional charge to a senior minister who had handled it in the past to facilitate Mr Natwar Singh’s return at a later date.

There is also a suggestion that the Prime Minister should only expand his Cabinet and fill the gaps for the present rather than reshuffling portfolios.

At the same time with the Prime Minister offering to get to the “root of the matter and establishing the truth or otherwise” of the references made in the report, the legal implications of a probe are being considered in its entirety. The Prime Minister’s Office had stated on Thursday that a decision in this regard would be announced shortly.

Meanwhile, Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed today protested against what he called the “trial by the media” of Mr Natwar Singh.

“I am deeply dismayed at the trial by the media which is taking place against my distinguished colleague,” Mr Ahamed observed in a statement.


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