January 24 2020
PM steps in to shield Chidambaram from Pranab's 2G letter bomb
22 September 2011

The Congress Party and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday formed a protective ring around a beleaguered Home Minister P. Chidambaram who is facing the 2G spectrum heat.

As the Opposition bayed for Chidambaram's blood, sources said a worried Congress president Sonia Gandhi stepped in to contain the political damage.

Taking a grim view of the situation, she is said to have asked the party honchos to douse the fire immediately even as the Opposition used the finance ministry's memo to demand Chidambaram's resignation.

Responding to a question posed by Headlines Today on board Air India 1, the Prime Minister said, "Mr Chidambaram has enjoyed my confidence as finance minister and continues to enjoy and inspire my confidence as home minister."

Chidambaram came under attack after a memo of the finance ministry informing the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) early this year that as finance minister in 2008 he had not sought revision of spectrum entry fee was made public. The March 25 memo was accessed through an RTI application and filed before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee queered the pitch for Chidambaram by confirming the existence of the office memorandum written by his office.

Although Pranab earlier said in Washington, "The whole matter is under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of India. We cannot make any comment on any matter that is subjudice," he later dropped a bomb while addressing Indian and American business leaders at a high-profile USIBC roundtable. Pranab said the finance ministry note to the Prime Minister's Office is out in the open only due to the Right to Information Act, which is one of the many steps the government has taken to flush out corruption and make governance transparent and accountable.

"In fact today (Thursday) a sensational news item has come and it is through the exercise of the RTI. A note was sent by minister of finance to Prime Minister. Somebody demanded through the use of RTI to have a copy of that note from the Prime Minister's Office and... fact of the matter is somebody has produced that as a piece of evidence in a particular case," Pranab said, triggering a political turmoil.

He said whether the letter can be used in such a manner or not "is a different story."

According to Headlines Today, deeply unhappy with the contents of the letter written by the finance ministry to the PMO on the allocation of 2G spectrum, Chidambaram offered his resignation to the PM.

HT has learnt from sources in the highest levels in government that the home minister told the Prime Minister he wanted to quit. The PM was en route from Frankfurt to New York where he will be participating in a series of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the UNGA.

The PM then spoke to Chidambaram, who was on a tour of the earthquake stricken state of Sikkim. During this conversation the PM assuaged an angry Chidambaram and promised him full support. This is what led to the PM emerging from his cabin and making an unscheduled statement in favour of the under fire home minister.

PM also ruled out suggestions that the FMs note reveals infighting between Chidambaram and Pranab. Amid what appeared to be an unseemly spectacle of discord between two senior ministers, AICC spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the "mischievous attempt" to create a rift between different constitutional functionaries is highly regrettable and ought not to be repeated. He did not elaborate on who was behind these mischievous attempts.

"We do not, in any manner, accept the allegation made by Dr Subramaniam Swamy against Mr Chidambaram. The party does not doubt his integrity," Singhvi said.

Attacking Swamy he said, "This issue has been raised by Dr Swamy in the apex court and is subjudice. Without waiting for the proceedings to be completed, it is highly objectionable and inappropriate for Dr Swamy, or anyone else, to pass premature judgment on the issue on which he is seeking relief."

The party also fielded law minister Salman Khurshid, and information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni to defend the Home Minister.

Khurshid said there could be no question mark on Chidambaram and he deserves the support of the government.

As the Congress brass expressed strong disapproval of the public spat between the two veterans, according to a statement issued by Chidambaram, the Prime Minister called him up "from Frankfurt on Wednesday night and told him not to make any public statement on the subject until he returns to India".

Chidambaram said the finance minister too had called him from Washington and spoke to him but did not elaborate. Pranab Mukherjee is in Washington to attend the Indo-US investor forum.

Though the sniping between the two veterans, who are considered Prime Ministerial probables is not new, the letter linking Chidambaram to the 2G sepcturm allocation has assumed serious political overtones as it strengthened the Opposition clamour for his resignation.

The DMK used the opportunity to claim that former telecom minister A. Raja and DMK president's daughter Kanimozhi were innocent.

In the backdrop of the finance ministry note, the DMK maintained that the stand taken by Raja, who is now in jail, on the issue has been 'vindicated'.

"The crux of the entire case is that Raja violated all advice by the Prime Minister and finance ministry. The letter (by finance ministry) says that the then finance minister had agreed to the fixed price, non-auction rule. This vindicates Raja's stand," DMK sources said.

Raja had told a court that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram had been kept in the loop.

Some in the party defended Mukherjee saying that he had not done any harm. "His ministry wrote a letter to the Prime Minister. There is nothing wrong in it, it is an internal communication meant for the consumption of the Prime Minister. He (Mukherjee) did not speak to the media or the Opposition. It is a different matter that someone obtained it through RTI," said a senior AICC general secretary.

Sources said after the Prime Minister and the finance minister return from their foreign visit, the Congress president is expected to convene a meeting of the top three (including Chidambaram) to sort out the matter.



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