Pranab's letter to PM may put PC in a spot

Pranab's letter to PM may put PC in a spot

FM says it was an inter-ministerial background note

Pranab's letter to PM may put PC in a spot

In the new four-page letter, which surfaced on Wednesday, Mukherjee is believed to have said that the March 25 note should not be seen as a finance ministry document but as an “inter-ministerial background paper”, an assertion that could put Home Minister P Chidambaram in a spot.

It could be interpreted that other ministries also raised the issue that the 2G spectrum allocation auction could have been avoidable if Chidambaram had been assertive enough in dealing with then telecom minister A Raja.

The letter was handed over to the prime minister when Mukherjee met him in New York on Sunday. The finance minister handed over a copy of the letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi when he met her on Monday.

As Mukherjee, whose face-off with Chidambaram has been the focus of the 2G controversy over the last week, returned from Kolkata and is said to have spoken to the home minister over phone.

Chidambaram, on his part, met the prime minister over and after the lunch which Singh hosted for the former British prime minister Tony Blair. Chidambaram is said to have told Singh that he needed a clarification from the government that there was no wrong doing on his part in the 2G scam.

Chidambaram, except for saying on September 21 that he would speak only after the prime minister returned from his US trip, has so far maintained a stoic silence. Asked about the new letter on Wednesday, Mukherjee quipped: “I consider the correspondence between a minister and the PM as confidential.”

In the letter, Mukherjee said the document, an ‘office memorandum’ (OM), was a background paper prepared on the basis of the facts that emerged from the meeting of secretaries from the department of telecom, law, finance ministry and principal secretary at the PMO that was held at the Cabinet Secretary office on 2G issue.

He is said to have explained that the decision to prepare a comprehensive background note was taken in the wake of differing versions regarding the controversy surrounding the allocation of 2G spectrum. The note was then sent to the cabinet secretary, who in turn sent it back with 14 more paragraphs and asked for the document to be shown to the finance minister.

Mukherjee decided to write the letter since there were several versions concerning the entire controversy.

It said the OM was sent as it was felt that there should be a consolidated and comprehensive background note harmonising all the viewpoints of various ministers.

The OM and Mukherjee’s letter may figure in a big way on Thursday when the Supreme Court takes up the application of Subramanian Swamy to include Chidambaram in the CBI probe into 2G.

As the OM controversy threatened to engulf Chidambaram, the joint parliamentary committee looking into the scam, expressed its disapproval over the finance minister not submitting the document to it.

The Congress chose to remain silent on the contents of the letter with party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi saying, “I don't have to say anything about the letter.”

But party sources said that the issue was being sorted out between the two senior ministers in the UPA government and that a statement will be issued by Mukherjee and Chidambaram in a day or two to “to dispel the notion of perceived rift between them.”

The two warring ministers are likely to come face to face on Thursday, as the Congress core committee, comprising top leaders, is likely to meet on the issue.

But it is increasingly becoming clear that the argument put up by the Congress to defend the embattled Chidambaram, that the contentious note sent by the finance ministry in March this year was insignificant, and that it was generated by a junior official, holds no water.

2G duel

* The Chidambaram-Pranab Mukherjee battle has
escalated with the FM writing to the prime minister
* Pranab says the OM (office memorandum) of March 25, 2011 was an ‘inter-ministerial background paper’
* It was generated with inputs from relevant ministries, PMO and Cabinet Secretary, says Mukherjee
* His letter indirectly blames the home minister for not taking action to prevent 2G scam