Rift wide open: Pranab letter rips off Chidu defence

A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's return to the capital, the government still appeared clueless on a response to the crisis sparked by the controversial note from the finance ministry which put Home Minister P Chidambaram under a cloud of suspicion in the 2G spectrum scandal.

In what is likely to compound the woes for the Congress and the UPA, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in a letter handed over to the Prime Minister in New York and to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday, is believed to have stated that the note was prepared with input from different ministries, including the prime minister's office. The document should be seen not as a finance ministry note but as an "inter-ministerial background paper".

 Rift wide open: Pranab letter rips off Chidu defence

Mukherjee's position that it was an inter-ministerial view makes it clear that the finance minister is in no mood to soft-pedal the issue. Reuters

The letter, according to media sources, provides the full sequence of internal communication that led to the 25 March note from the finance ministry. The note, which says Chidambaram did not exercise his powers to force then telecom minister A Raja to take the auction route in the 2G spectrum allocations, has hinted at a big rift between Mukherjee and Chidambaram and kicked up a political storm with the opposition BJP demanding the latter's ouster from the ministry.

Mukherjee's position that it was an inter-ministerial view arrived at after elaborate communication between telecom, law and finance ministries as well as the PMO, makes it clear that the finance minister is in no mood to soft-pedal the issue and make compromising gestures towards Chidambaram. While he has not officially clarified his position yet, the letter carries the tone of his response to the issue.

The letter says the controversial note was prepared on inputs given by the PMO and cabinet secretariat. Since there were different versions concerning the entire controversy, it was decided that there should be a consolidated and comprehensive background note harmonizing all the view points from the various ministers, it said.

The letter also suggests that other ministries were in agreement with the fact that Chidambaram was not assertive enough when Raja was making merry with the license allocations. This is likely to push the home minister to a corner and leave him without any defence. This would also embolden the Opposition to launch a stronger, and possibly decisive, attack on Chidambaram.

The home minister has kept mum so far, probably working out his defence. However, despite the prime minister's public assurance of absolute trust in him, he might find his position in the ministry untenable. He does not have too many friends in the Congress and is likely to find it to his detriment sooner than later.

He attended a lunch hosted today by the Prime Minister hosted for former British prime minister Tony Blair but was among the earliest to leave. The mood tells the story, though it's too early to talk about his fate.

Mukherjee's letter also leaves Manmohan Singh in a spot of bother. Singh's open proclamation of confidence in the home minister could be construed as his defence for him against the collective view of several ministries. It leaves him exposed to attacks.

"There is no difference between what A Raja and Chidambaram did,’’ said senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj today, underlining the fact that the wrongdoings committed by Raja were committed by Chidambaram too. The argument could be extended to the Prime Minister easily, particularly after Mukherjee's letter. He would find it difficult to defend himself or extricate himself from the 2G issue.

The Congress, of course, is bound to take the final brunt. The animosity between the two senior leaders, if it continues this way, is sure to take the confused party down further.

Updated Date: Sep 28, 2011 22:04:53 IST