M A I N   N E W S

Govt rallies behind PC, Oppn guns for his head
Can’t doubt his integrity, says Cong; BJP demands CBI probe
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, September 22
The government and the Congress today made a valiant attempt to put a lid on the internal bickering between its two senior ministers - Pranab Mukherjee and P.Chidambaram - which was vividly brought out in the fresh revelations in the 2G Spectrum case placed before the Supreme Court yesterday.

A joint, concerted effort was mounted through the day to defend Chidambaram’s role in the 2G Spectrum allocation and present a cohesive picture even as an aggressive Opposition, led by the BJP, demanded the Home Minister’s resignation. Shortly after the storm broke last night, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to Chidambaram from Frankfurt where he had stopped en route to New York, and is reported to have assured the Home minister of his full support. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is currently in the US, also spoke to the Home Minister. Chidambaram, on his part, is learnt to have complained to the PM that the controversial note sent by the Finance Ministry to the PMO was part of an orchestrated campaign from within the government against him.

Chidambaram, however, maintained a studied silence on the controversy. In a brief statement issued by him this evening, the minister admitted that the Prime Minister and Mukherjee had spoken to him last night. “I have assured the Prime Minister that I shall not make any public statement on the subject until he returns to India,” Chidambaram said. The PM is also learnt to have spoken to Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni and Law Minister Salman Khursheed and urged the two to stoutly defend Chidambaram. Subsequently, Soni forcefully denied reports of a rift in the government, adding emphatically that Chidambaram’s integrity could not be questioned. “There is nothing contentious, nothing new, nothing revealing in the letter which should excite anybody,” Soni said.

Speaking in the same vein, Khursheed said there was no question mark on the conduct of the Home Minister. “It was difficult to comment on the said note as it had come from a junior official in the ministry,” he said. Privately, however, senior UPA ministers and Congress leaders admitted to the bitter relationship between Chidambaram and Mukherjee, adding that there have been several instances in the recent past when the two have tried to get the better of each other.

But it is critical for the government and the party to defend Chidambaram as it has to ensure that the focus in the 2G Spectrum case stays on DMK leaders, failing which the spotlight would again shift to the Prime Minister’s role in the matter. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said it would be wrong to pass a premature judgement on an issue which is still being heard in court and blamed unnamed “mischievous elements” of creating trouble between two Constitutional functionaries. Quoting from the Finance Ministry’s comments on the 2G case in the CAG report, he said, the Telecom Department had not kept the Finance Ministry in the loop and had refused inter-ministerial consultations.

Meanwhile, the Opposition, led by the BJP, trained its guns on Chidambaram demanding his immediate resignation. “Finance Ministry officials were telling Chidambaram to go for auctions. Why was it not done?.. There are clear contradictions here. I strongly demand that either Chidambaram should resign or he should be dismissed forthwith,” said BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi, who as the PAC chairman conducted a probe into the Spectrum scam.

Citing several “anomalies” in the Spectrum allocation, Joshi wondered why the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not take timely action to prevent the scam. He further demanded that the “exact quantum of loss” to the country due to this scam should be determined by Pranab Mukherjee and made public. He said the CBI should also inquire into the role of Chidambaram in the scam. The CPM Politburo backed the BJP demand, saying there is “mounting evidence” against him. In Chennai, AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa said: “It is quite clear that Chidambaram is deeply involved in the 2G scam.” 

Raja vindicated: DMK

The DMK said the stand taken by ex-Telecom Minister A Raja on the Spectrum issue has been ‘vindicated’. Raja has been saying that he had kept the then Finance Minister and the PM in the loop as far as the Spectrum allocation was concerned. The Finance Ministry note that has put Chidambaram in a spot vindicates Raja’s stand that allocation of the Spectrum was a policy decision and not his own, said DMK sources. They added that it was wrong to keep Raja in jail for following a policy decision.

CBI backs Chidambaram

The CBI on Thursday defended Home Minister P Chidambaram in the Supreme Court in the 2G scam by blaming the Department of Telecommunications for jumping the gun in Spectrum allocation. 





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