M A I N   N E W S

Natwar meets PM, says he is innocent
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 3
Minister without portfolio K. Natwar Singh called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here today and is believed to have discussed the fresh controversy involving him in the UN’s Oil-for-Food programme in Iraq following the controversial interview given by India’s envoy to Croatia Aneil Matherani. The subsequent denial that it was “off the record” has added a new dimension to the raging controversy.

Widespread speculation that Mr Natwar Singh had met Dr Singh to submit his resignation as Minister without portfolio on the eve of the Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow was brushed aside by authoritative sources. They clarified that Mr Natwar Singh had not submitted his resignation.

It had become apparent after Dr Singh’s statement in both House of Parliament yesterday that Mr Natwar Singh is not being asked to step down as a Union Minister as Mr Matherani’s comments were the subject matter of a probe by the high powered Inquiry Authority headed by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mr Justice R.S. Pathak.

The core group comprising Dr Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and other senior ministers including Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and the Congress President’s political adviser Ahmed Patel discussed the fallout of Mr Matherani’s allegations and felt that there was no need to seek Mr Natwar Singh’s resignation at this juncture. He had already been stripped of the high profile External Affairs portfolio in the first instance before the SAARC summit in Dhaka last month.

During his 45-minute meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr Natwar Singh is believed to have gone over the ground once again that he is innocent of any wrong-doing.

It is on the strength of that plea that Mr Natwar Singh has remained unbudging from bidding adieu as a Minister in the Manmohan Singh government. Mr Natwar Singh expressed his resolve yet again to struggle it out. “There is a struggle and we will face it,” the Minister without portfolio observed on the sidelines of a book release function today pertaining to Mangal Pandey, the hero of India’s first Independence struggle of 1857.

He also refused to speak his mind if he proposed sending a legal notice to Mr Matherani for the comments attributed to him by the India Today newsmagazine. However, Mr Natwar Singh had described Mr Matherani’s comments as “outrageous” and “malicious” and that he was actively considering legal recourse.

The Prime Minister is of the opinion that there are no immediate grounds to see the back of Mr Natwar Singh from his government. In his statement to Parliament yesterday Dr Singh made it clear his government is determined to get to the root of the matter. “Our government believes in maintaining high standards of probity and transparency in public life and I can assure the House that no one who is guilty will go unpunished.” The PMO also believes Mr Matherani’s statement can be used as evidence both by the Justice R.S. Pathak Inquiry Authority and the Enforcement Directorate which has assured the government that they would establish the facts expeditiously.

It became evident after Dr Singh observed that “we should not pre-judge the final outcome of the investigation or pre-empt the findings that may be given by the Justice R.S. Pathak Inquiry Authority” that Mr Natwar Singh had earned a reprieve for some time.

Simultaneously, the CPI(M) insisted that the government should stick to the inquiry on the Volcker Committee report. At the same time the Volcker Committee report should not be treated as “final and conclusive” given the circumstances in which Iraq was under sanctions and the records obtained under US occupation have not been verified. “All the relevant information and material should be investigated, including the purported remarks by Aneil Matherani,” the CPI(M) added.

Even as the Prime Minister leaves here tomorrow for the annual summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Opposition promised to create fresh turmoil in Parliament on Monday after the weekend break. The BJP is determined to step up the heat against Mrs Sonia Gandhi in the wake of the charges made by Mr Matherani.

“Unless the government comes out with remedial measures, the issue is going to burn in Parliament,” senior BJP leaders maintained. “Our demands for the resignation and arrest of Mr Natwar Singh will be raised again. We also want Congress President Sonia Gandhi to step down as Chairperson of the National Advisory Council in which capacity she enjoys the powers of a Cabinet Minister,” they said. Senior BJP leaders will meet informally tomorrow to chalk a strategy to attack the government.

The Volcker Committee report had named Mr Natwar Singh and the Congress party as non-contractual beneficiaries in Iraq’s $ 64 billion Oil-for-Food programme.



Natwar should quit: CPI
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 3
The national executive of the Communist Party of India (CPI) today demanded the resignation of former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh from the Union Cabinet following damaging comments by Indian Ambassador to Croatia Aneil Matherani.

It discussed the party’s stand since the Volcker report revealed the alleged involvement of Natwar Singh and his son as non-contractual beneficiaries and asked him to step from the post of minister without portfolio.

The national executive also discussed the current political situation, Bihar elections, contentious Bills pending before Parliament, move to dilute labour laws and the forthcoming WTO talks in Hong Kong.

While CPI had changed its stance since Matherani’s remarks, the CPM continued to play it safe.

The CPM politburo said in a press note issued today that the inquiry was necessary to establish if there was any wrongdoing and by whom.

Action should be taken on the basis of the inquiry report and all relevant information and material regarding the scam should be investigated, it added.

Though demanding that the charges in the Volcker report be investigated to ascertain the truth, the CPM reiterated that the report should not be treated as conclusive.


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