September 23rd, 2011
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I have full confidence in Chidambaram: PM

manmohan-singhEven after speculations regarding the Chidambaram’s credibility is flying high and wide this has not shaken the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s confidence in him. He still brushes aside all allegations that rise against his kitchen cabinet and every attempt to tarnish or hamper its unity.

“I don’t know what note you are talking about. The whole 2G matter is before the court. I don’t want to comment on a matter that is sub judice”, he told journalists accompanying him from Frankfurt to New York. As far as P Chidambaram is concerned, as Finance Minister, he had enjoyed my full confidence and as Home Minister he continues to enjoy and inspire my full confidence,” he said.

The Prime Minister was asked about the surfacing of a Finance Ministry note of March, 2011, which has said that the then Finance Minister P Chidambaram could have recommended auctioning of 2G Spectrum if he had wanted instead of selling it at 2001 prices. When asked whether this letter of Pranab Mukherjee signifies the infighting in the cabinet, he replied in the negative.

The party’s official and unofficial view is that the note submitted in the Supreme Court does not contain any evidence of criminal culpability on the part of Mr Chidambaram; it only reveals differing views on a policy issue within the government.

Party sources say that the controversy would be resolved only next week after the PM and the Finance Minister returns from abroad. Earlier on Wednesday night, an upset Chidambaram spoke to the Prime Minister in Frankfurt and discussed the developments in the Supreme Court against the backdrop of the submission of a Finance Ministry March, 2011 note to the apex court. Manmohan Singh has instructed Chidambaram to keep mum. Do “not make any statement on the subject till we return,” he said.

The Opposition however has demanded the immediate resignation of Mr Chidambaram.

The entire controversy was sparked by a note that was made public through RTI which was sent by Mr Mukherjee’s Finance Ministry in March this year to Dr Manmohan Singh’s office. It suggests that Mr Chidambaram could have been more proactive as Finance Minister when India’s greatest scam was unleashed in 2008 by A Raja, who was then Telecom Minister.

The note raises questions about Chidambaram’s role in the pricing of second-generation or 2G spectrum – which was not auctioned by Mr Raja and is now considered to have been grossly under-valued. The telecom scam rests on how Mr Raja, now in jail, chose to award mobile network licences and accompanying second-generation or 2G frequency in 2008.

Among the charges against him is that he refused to auction the spectrum, opting instead to give licences on a first-come-first-serve basis to ineligible companies. The lack of an auction, some experts say, has cost the government thousands of crores.

The note from Mr Mukherjee’s team states that Mr Raja could have been coerced to auction spectrum if the Ministry of Finance, headed by Mr Chidambaram had “stuck to its stand.” The document also suggests that even after the licenses were allocated in January 2008 at a cost of Rs. 1600 crore each to companies, the guidelines allowed the government four months to cancel the deals – an exit route that the Finance Ministry should have pushed for.

The note against Mr Chidambaram was prepared by the Deputy Director, Economic Affairs on March 25, 2011. It was produced in court on Wednesday by Subramanian Swamy, who is one of the main petitioners in the case on the telecom scam that is being heard by the Supreme Court.

Mr Swamy has been demanding that Mr Chidambaram be charged in the CBI’s case. However, in court today, the CBI said that the lack of an auction for spectrum should be blamed not on Mr Chidambaram but on the Department of Telecom which “jumped the gun.” The CBI’s lawyer, KK Venugopal, said that days before a crucial meeting could be held to discuss the pricing of spectrum, Mr Raja proceeded to sign off on deals with different companies. “Any one person cannot be held responsible,” the CBI’s layer argued. He requested the judges not to rely on the Finance Ministry note against Mr Chidambaram, and to ignore Mr Swamy’s request for a CBI inquiry against the minister.

Mr Raja, who is now in jail, has repeatedly said that he had kept both the Prime Minister and Mr Chidambaram in the loop about his decisions on 2G spectrum. Mr Chidambaram has maintained that he tried to persuade Mr Raja on multiple occasions to opt for an auction. On January 15, five days after Mr Raja signed off on the licenses Mr Chidambaram also wrote to the PM opposing the trade of spectrum.

The government has repeatedly said that it was not the policy followed by Mr Raja but his twisted implementation to benefit certain companies that led to the scam.

 



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