New Delhi: Putting up a united front, the big guns of the Congress party appeared before the media on Thursday evening in an apparent bid to put an end to the raging controversy regarding a Finance Ministry note to the PMO on March 25 this year.
In a short and cautious statement, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the view in the 2G note was not his but was an inter-ministerial background paper on the 2G spectrum issue. “A number of stories on 2G spectrum have appeared in the media since January 2011. A view was taken that a harmonised note based on facts could be produced before you by various representatives of the government,” he said.
The Finance Minister further added, “A group of officers prepared an inter-ministerial background paper which was sent to the PMO on March 25.”
“Apart from the factual background, the paper contained inferences and interpretations which do not reflect my views,” he clarified.
Mukherjee also linked 2G spectrum allocation in 2008 to the earlier National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the BJP.
"The policy of the government in 2007-08 was continuation of the policy adopted in October 2003 and as reiterated by the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India)," he said.
Addressing the media briefly on his part, Chidambaram issued a one line statement. “I am happy with the statement read by my senior and distinguished colleague, Pranab Mukherjee. I accept the statement. The matter is closed.”
Apart from Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram, two other senior Congress leaders, Kapil Sibal and Salman Khurshid were present at the media briefing.
After the politically damaging note which is said to have harmed the credibility of the Congress party, this statement by Pranab Mukherjee is being seen as a clear attempt to clear the name of Chidambaram in the 2G controversy and also a move to distance himself from the contentious issue.
It was a long day of hectic political activity in the capital today. The statement came after Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at 7, Race Course Road.
This is the first time the two ministers came face to face since the controversy broke out a week ago after the surfacing of a Finance Ministry note that suggested that the 2G scam could have been avoided if Chidambaram as the then Finance Minister in 2008 had insisted on auctioning of
Earlier in the morning, Mukherjee met Congress President Sonia Gandhi after senior leaders AK Antony and Ahmed Patel held confabulations with her.
Later, Law Minister Salman Khurshid and MoS in the PMO V Narayanasamy met Chidambaram before he left for the meeting with the Prime Minister.
The 2G note of the Finance Ministry is believed to have caused frictions between Mukherjee and Chidambaram which the party leadership was keen to end.
Nonetheless, the Congress has categorically rejected the reports of infighting within the party leaders. The UPA chairperson and the PM have been backing the Home Minister ever since the note became public. Sonia Gandhi had asked all the party-men to back Chidambarm and the PM has been repeating that the Home Minister “enjoyed his confidence” and his integrity could not be doubted.
It should be noted that Pranab Mukherjee had earlier written a four-page long letter to the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi explaining the ministerial note. As per reports, he had made it clear that the note did not suggest any criminality or indictment of P Chidambaram during his stint as finance minister.
It has been learnt that Mukherjee also stressed on the fact that the Prime Minister`s Office was kept in the loop about the note and even gave inputs for it. The Finance Minister`s letter also gave a detailed explanation over the sequence of events that led to the note on 2G being made.
The politically inflammatory note was accessed by an application under the Right to Information Act.
In a related development, the CBI today gave a clean chit to Chidambaram during a hearing of the 2G spectrum case in the Supreme Court.
Reacting on the brief statement by Pranab Mukherjee, the main Opposition party said that this was merely a “cover up” by the Congress. In a remark apparently aimed at Chidambaram, spokesperson of the BJP, Ravi Shankar Prasad said, "It is not your internal matter or ego battle to be settled. You are an accused; your role needs to be investigated."
Sources said the BJP national executive, scheduled to meet here for two days from Friday, will take up the issue of the 2G note in a big way.
The Supreme Court is scheduled for a hearing on the 2G issue on October 10 and the JPC is meeting on October 12 where too the issue is expected to come up.
Meanwhile, Manmohan Singh met the Congress president Sonia Gandhi later in the evening for about 30 minutes. There was no statement from the party about what transpired at the meeting.