New Delhi: Amid the controversy over his alleged role in the second-generation telecom spectrum (2G) scam, an upset Union home minister P. Chidambaram met Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday to express his displeasure over a likely smear campaign from within the party and the government, said two people familiar with the development.
Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, whose ministry sent an internal note hinting that Chidambaram could have prevented the scam but didn’t, too met Gandhi over the matter, they added, asking not to be identified.
Chidambaram left 10 Janpath, the official residence of the Congress chief, without speaking to the media. He could not be immediately reached for a comment.
The controversy follows a 10-page note sent to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) by the finance ministry in March. The note that became public last week suggested that the scam could have been avoided if the finance ministry, then under Chidambaram, had insisted on awarding 2G spectrum through an auction.
The minister has been under attack since by rival parties.
Mukherjee refused to speak on the contentious note after arriving from the US.
Union home minister P Chidambaram leaves from 10 Janpath after a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on Monday. PTI
“Whatever I had to say, I said yesterday. I have nothing to add,” Mukherjee, who described Chidambaram as a “valued colleague”, told reporters after he arrived in New Delhi.
He said a full-fledged press conference will be held after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returns from his visit to New York on Tuesday.
The finance minister was in Washington to attend the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
The controversy began the day Mukherjee left for the US to attend the meetings, after Janata Dal party leader Subramanian Swamy filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court demanding an investigation against Chidambaram.
In his affidavit, Swamy submitted a 25 March finance ministry note, approved by Mukherjee, stating that the department of telecommunication could have invoked the clause of cancelling the licences had the finance ministry stuck to its stand on auctioning the spectrum.
The Supreme Court will continue hearing the matter on Tuesday.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said it has no evidence against Chidambaram and is not considering the March note.
“We don’t have the note with us and (are) not even considering it. According to documents screened by us, Chidambaram has been insisting on auctioning the spectrum. There was a difference between Raja and Chidambaram, and the matter was referred to a GoM (group of ministers). But before the GoM could meet, A. Raja (then telecom minister) bypassed Chidambaram and allotted letter of intent to telcos,” said a CBI official, who did not want to be identified.
“At this point, Chidambaram wrote that since LoIs (letters of intent) have been issued, from the future, spectrum should be auctioned,” said the official.
The Congress party sought to play down the issue.
Union law minister Salman Khursheed said the inferences drawn out of the note were “not correct”.
“I have seen the note. I don’t think the note has anything on which we should express worry,” Khursheed told reporters. “Even if all parts of the note are believed to be correct, I will say that the inferences drawn are not correct.”
He said the note was a “summary” prepared by an official at the lower level.
The party said neither Chidambaram nor Mukherjee had done any wrong.
“We are with the home minister. I don’t think the home minister has done anything wrong,” Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), however, said Chidambaram should be sacked and criminal investigations initiated against him.
Mint’s Appu Esthose Suresh and PTI contributed to this story.