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Congress defends Chidambaram, BJP wants his ouster

Saturday September 24, 2011 01:43:29 AM, IANS

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2G strikes back, heat on Chidambaram to quit

With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh away in New York, the phone airwaves case rocked the government again Thursday, this time over a six-month-old note of the finance ministry that fell just short of indicting Home Minister P. Chidambaram, sparking a war of words between the Congress  

New Delhi: The Congress Friday defended union Home Minister P. Chidambaram as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) asked for his resignation, citing a finance ministry note to the Prime Minister's Office that he could have stopped the 2G spectrum sale.

As speculation mounted on the equation between Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Chidambaram, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has directed top leaders to put up a joint defence, party insiders said.

Gandhi, who has recently returned after a surgery abroad, is learnt to have stepped in to resolve the crisis involving one of the government's most high-profile ministers.

The controversy surfaced after an RTI answer revealed that the finance ministry - headed by Mukherjee - had sent a note to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on March 25, 2011, that 2G spectrum licences would have been auctioned in 2008 if then finance minister Chidambaram had stood firm on it.

This has led to the opposition asking for Chidambaram's resignation and speculation that things are not as they should be between the two ministers.

Meanwhile, the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) investigating the 2G scam has asked the finance ministry to submit the note ahead of its meeting Sep 27.

Defending Chidambaram, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said: "The matter should be left to the wisdom of the Joint Parliamentary Committee which has representation from all sides of political spectrum."

The BJP, however, said the "culpability" of Chidambaram was evident in the 2G spectrum scam, and demanded a fair investigation into his role as the finance minister in allocation of the scarce spectrum in 2008.

BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government's image will be further tarnished if it does not order an investigation into his role.

"Culpability of Chidambaram is evident," he said.

Prasad said he wanted to ask the "great patrons of Chidambaram" in the government if the minister had abused authority and allowed some persons to "gain pecuniary advantage without public interest".

Prasad also accused the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of double standards in relation to the 2G spectrum probe.

"The CBI is more than keen to question Jaswant Singh (former finance minister) but is absolutely stonewalling pleas to investigate Chidambaram despite voluminous evidence," he said.

Calling upon Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to order a probe, Prasad said not doing so will further tarnish the image of government at a time when there is pressure from people on cases of corruption.

"Is your (PM's) confidence in your colleagues more important, or, a fair, transparent investigation?" Prasad asked, referring to a statement of Manmohan Singh that Chidambaram enjoyed his confidence.

Prasad said that on Nov 22, 2007, then finance secretary D. Subbarao wrote to his counterpart in the communications ministry raising concerns that spectrum was being allocated at 2001 prices, and suggested that either current valuation or indexation should be done.

Chidambaram wrote a letter Jan 15, four days after spectrum allocation, in which he said auction was the correct way of giving spectrum but added that his ministry treats the allocations already made "as a closed chapter", he added.

"If an auction had been done (of 2G spectrum), it would have fetched at least Rs.35,000 crore," Prasad said.

In its March 25 note to the PMO, the finance ministry says Chidambaram could have prevented spectrum from being given away at throwaway prices by insisting on its auction, implying that presumptive losses worth thousands of crores could have thus been avoided.






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