New Delhi, Sep 29
The Congress-led government Thursday sought to bury a flaming row over a finance ministry note that linked Home Minister P. Chidambaram to the 2G scandal, with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee denying the note reflected his views on the 2008 spectrum allocation.
In a bid to show that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was united, Mukherjee read out a prepared statement outside his North Block office. He was flanked by a grave-looking Chidambaram and cabinet ministers Salman Khurshid and Kapil Sibal.
But a dissatisfied Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rubbished the show of unity, and demanded that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should probe Chidambaram.
Mukherjee’s statement came on another day of hectic parleys within the Congress. He met Congress president Sonia Gandhi along with Ahmed Patel as well as A.K. Antony. He then met Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh for some 25 minutes in the company of Chidambaram, indicating a truce was on way.
“Apart from the factual background (on spectrum allocation), the paper (note) contains certain inferences and interpretations which do not reflect my views,” said Mukherjee, the most senior minister and also a Congress party veteran.
The note sent to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) by his ministry in March suggested that the spectrum allocation could have been auctioned had Chidambaram, as the then finance minister, insisted.
Since the note became public, Chidambaram came under attack for alleged links with the spectrum scandal that has landed a former cabinet minister and several others in prison. The opposition asked him to quit.
In a related development, the CBI gave a clean chit to Chidambaram during a hearing of the 2G spectrum case in the Supreme Court.
After Mukherjee spoke, the home minister said he was happy with the statement read out by his “senior and distinguished colleague”. He added that the “matter was closed” for the government.
In his statement, Mukherjee said the government had sought to prepare “a harmonized note based on facts … for use by various representatives of the government.
“A group of officers prepared an inter-ministerial background paper which was sent to PMO on March 25,” he said.
He said the inferences in the note — which is what caused the problems for Chidambaram and the government — did not have his approval.
Mukherjee had until now taken no such categorical stand. He had met Manmohan Singh once in New York and Sonia Gandhi twice but did not divulge the details of their discussions.
The prime minister had already declared that he stood by Chidambaram.
Mukherjee also linked 2G spectrum allocation in 2008 to the earlier National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The policy of the government in 2007-08 was continuation of the policy adopted in October 2003 and as reiterated by the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India,” he said.
BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad argued that Mukherjee’s statement only made the matters worse for the government.
In a remark apparently aimed at Chidambaram, he added: “It is not your internal matter or ego battle to be settled. You are accused, your role needs to be investigated.”