Mukherjee, Chidambaram try to end 2G note episode, but Opposition unmoved

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 30 2011, 06:13am hrs
The UPA government on Thursday brought finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and home minister P Chidambaram to a joint media briefing to paper over the controversy on the 2G note, but the move left the Opposition unconvinced. Mukherjee called newspersons to a briefing outside North Block to declare that the inferences made in the background note prepared by finance ministry officials about the role of Chidambaram as finance minister in not preventing the spectrum scam were not his views. Apart from the factual background, the paper contains certain inferences and interpretations which do not reflect my views, he said.

Mukherjee, however, did not take questions as to how such inferences were drawn by the officials in his ministry. He also did not say how the note which was seen by him could have travelled to the Prime Ministers Office when the comments about Chidambaram were not his.

But standing beside Mukherjee, the home minister said he accepted the statement and considered the matter closed.

Reading from a prepared statement, Mukherjee said a number of stories on the 2G spectrum allocation had appeared in the media in January 2011. A view was (therefore) taken that a harmonised note based on facts should be produced for use by various representatives of the government. A group of officers prepared an inter-ministerial background paper which was sent to PMO on 25th March 2011.

The minister went on to add that the policy of the UPA government in 2007-08, when Chidambaram was the finance minister, was a continuation of the policy adopted in October 2003 and as reiterated by Trai.

The BJP, however, appeared unimpressed by this show of unity of the government. Party general secretary Ravi Shankar Prasad said the statement did not answer fundamental questions. The BJP demands the resignation of home minister P Chidambaram and a CBI probe into the inferences of the note, he said.

Reeling under the arrest of former telecom minister A Raja from coalition partner DMK, the finance ministry note had put the Congress in an embarrassing position. The note showed that Chidambaram had not pursued his ministry's point of view with Raja that the spectrum should be auctioned and not given out in 2008 at prices discovered in a 2001 auction.

Mukherjee's latest statement claims the UPA government was following the principle laid down by the previous NDA government, a position Chidambaram too had articulated earlier. The government hopes the statement would help draw away the spotlight from what had become a raging controversy questioning the unity of the government and the working relationship between senior ministers.

Since Wednesday evening, hectic parleys to diffuse the situation had started, with home minister Chidambaram making it clear that he needed his name cleared at the earliest. The modalities of just how that could be done were debated till late night at finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's home and later in the morning at Congress president Sonia Gandhi's residence. Sources confirm that the idea of a joint press briefing was floated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was touring Sikkim during the day following an earthquake in the state.