2G scam: Opposition wants Chidambaram out, Congress backs him

Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seized the opportunity and sought the immediate resignation of Chidambaram, Manmohan Singh reassured his home minister of his trust and spoke with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, also in the US.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the meanwhile was also briefed on the matter and was expected to take it up when the prime minister returns to the capital Monday, after attending the UN General Assembly, Congress sources said.

In a fresh twist to the second generation (2G) spectrum case, a note to the Prime Minister's Office from the finance ministry in March said the airwaves could have been auctioned in 2008 if Chidambaram, then the finance minister, had "stuck to his stand".

In the note, the finance ministry says Chidambaram, one of the government's most high-profile ministers, 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.

The note, which was apparently shown to Mukherjee and accessed by an application under the Right to Information Act, was prepared by a deputy secretary in the finance ministry and sent to the Prime Minister's Office March 25.

"This clearly proves the role of P. Chidambaram in the 2G scam. He is responsible," BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi said. "He should resign himself or he should be dismissed. I demand it strongly."

He sought a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa echoed the demand and said in Chennai that the prime minister should axe Chidambaram if he did not resign on his own.

"The CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) should act against Chidambaram like it did against Raja," the AIADMK chief told a news channel.
The CPI-M agreed and pressed for a CBI probe.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who are away in the US, called up Chidambaram over the  controversy Wednesday night. The home minister assured both that he will not speak on the issue till their return.

"Friends from the media have asked me why I remain silent. The prime minister called me last night from Frankfurt and spoke to me. The finance minister called me from Washington and spoke to me," Chidambaram said in a statement here Thursday.

"I have assured the prime minister that I shall not make any public statement on the subject until he returns to India," he added. Government sources, meanwhile, said that during the phone call Wednesday, the prime minister informed Chidambaram that he had not seen the finance ministry note mentioning his role in the 2G spectrum allocation.

During the call that lasted for 20 minutes, the prime minister conveyed his complete faith on Chidambaram's integrity and asked him to remain patient till his return to India, sources said.

Even the DMK -- a key ally of the ruling coalition at the centre -- joined the chorus to say Chidambaram's role in the 2G case was never in doubt.  But the Congress defended Chidambaram and said the opposition's demand for his resignation was a "mischievous attempt" to create a rift in the party.

"The party does not doubt his integrity," spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, adding that since Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy had presented the documents in the Supreme Court,  the matter was sub judice.

"Without waiting for the proceedings to be completed, it is highly objectionable and inappropriate for Swamy or anyone else to pass premature judgment on the very same issue on which he is seeking relief."

Mukherjee, in New York, avoided direct comment on the note from his ministry but acknowledged such a letter was, indeed, dispatched to the Prime Minister's Office.
"Today a sensational news item has come and it is through the exercise of the right to information. A note was sent by the ministry of finance to the prime minister. Somebody demanded through the use of right to information to have a copy of that note," he said.

"And that is being used -- whether legally it can be used or not is a different story -- but the fact of the matter is, somebody has produced that as a piece of evidence in a particular case," he added.

"The matter is sub judice. The court is looking into it." BJP leader Arun Jaitley Thursday said the latest twist in the 2G scam showed that the UPA government was at war with itself. He praised Pranab Mukherjee as the "wisest man in the government" and hoped he would make a full and frank disclosure on the controversy.  

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