In 2004, UPA chief Sonia Gandhi wrote to the then finance minister P Chidambaram asking him to ensure that the financers of Tehelka are not meted out “unjust or unfair treatment”, claims former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly. Tehelka magazine had done a sting operation on alleged corruption in defence deals during the previous Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government which later resulted in the resignation of the then defence minister George Fernandes. Jaitly made the claims in the book “Life Among the Scorpions” in which she appears to target the Congress over Tehelka’s ‘Operation West End’ sting. Justice SN Phukan, then heading the Assam State Human Rights Commission, was named to take up the Tehelka inquiry in January 2003. “Justice Phukan meant business and did not allow anyone to delay matters. He took calmly the fact that the Tehelka team decided to walk out of the Commission’s proceedings as soon he announced the tapes were being sent for checking,” writes Jaitly.
“… When the Commission was still at work, Sonia Gandhi, as head of the UPA and the National Advisory Council, wrote an official letter to finance minister P Chidambaram, dated 25/27 September 2004 – a copy of which was provided to me by a highly placed source in the Opposition – asking him to ensure that First Global, Tehelka’s financiers, are not meted out ‘unjust or unfair treatment’. “She was, in fact, saying the very same thing I was trying to explain to the Tehelka person asking me a favour for the purpose of entrapment. Here again, irony was visiting…,” the book, published by Rupa, says. Yesterday, Chidambaram suggested that the media ask the government for release of his reply to Sonia Gandhi.
According to Jaitly, one could clearly see that the “constituents of the UPA had insulted two former judges of the Supreme Court of India, closed down a Commission of Inquiry in the last phase of its work, betrayed oaths of secrecy, blatantly defended unethical and fraudulent journalism and sought to protect its financiers from a simple inquiry”. Then the government, she says, got entangled in its own contradictions. “It first said there was no report, then a ‘non-report’, then a mere 41-page summary, then an accusation that the Commission had not gone into the issue of corruption. It avoided the fact that Justice Phukan had specifically mentioned he had found nothing irregular in the role of George Fernandes in the 15 actual procurements,” she writes.
She claims Fernandes wrote to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh requesting that the report given to his predecessor Vajpayee in February 2004 be tabled in Parliament. “Months later, a mere summary was tabled upon the excuse that the whole report would compromise issues of national security. After accusing the Commission of no work, it closed it down before it could complete the last leg and then accused it of not working,” Jaitly alleges. “With illogical arguments like that, who could win? Sadly, neither the BJP nor other constituents of the opposition NDA raised a hue and cry. It might have been over for them but it was not over for some of us,” she says.