2G note: Chidambaram offers to quit? Pranab meets Sonia

Home Minister P Chidambaram drove up to 10 Janpath for a short meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday evening; Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is meeting her now.

Mr Mukherjee arrived in India today amidst a raging controversy over a note sent by his ministry to the Prime Minister’s Office on the 2G spectrum scam in March this year. The note, which questions Mr Chidambaram’s actions when the telecom scam was playing out in 2008, has triggered speculation of a rift between the government’s two seniormost ministers and has become a major embarrassment for the Manmohan Singh government.

Sources had earlier told NDTV that Mr Mukherjee had sought an appointment with Mrs Gandhi and could meet her any time after 6 pm today to discuss the row over the controversial note. Sources said he was in his office – while Mr Chidambaram was meeting Mrs Gandhi – studying the 2G note that has caused so much controversy. Mr Chidambaram’s meeting with Mrs Gandhi has ended amid much speculation that an upset Home Minister might have offered to quit.

The Congress is attempting to knit together a twin strategy on the issue – one part is to back Mr Chidambaram to the hilt and minister after Congress minister is doing that. The other is to distance Mr Mukherjee from the controversial note. Law Minister Salman Khursheed said today that it was drafted by a lower official of the Finance Ministry and that the minister had little to do with it. He tried to play down the controversy as one of the media’s making.
Both Mr Chidambaram and Mrs Gandhi have been in the capital over the last few days, but the Congress president met him only today, once Mr Mukherjee is back from a visit to the US. Sources said Mrs Gandhi could hold individual meetings with both ministers to begin with and then could later call a meeting with both of them and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh present. Dr Singh too has been in the US for the past few days to address the United Nations General Assembly and is expected back in Delhi tomorrow.

In Delhi, Mr Chidambaram has steadfastly refused to comment on the controversy till the Prime Minister is back. Abroad, Mr Mukherjee did the same. The PM backed both his ministers to the hilt; he reportedly spoke on the phone to Mr Chidambaram from Frankfurt on his way to the US last week and assured him of his full confidence. He did the same publically when addressing mediapersons and rubbished reports of a rift in his government.

Mr Mukherjee, addressing mediapersons on his arrival at the Delhi airport today, said that he would hold a full-fledged press conference over the matter once the PM was back. Yesterday, in New York, Mr Mukherjee had refused to speak on the note saying that the matter was sub-judice. “I cannot comment till I have spoken to Mr Chidambaram, who is a valued colleague,” he said then, adding he was “not here to satisfy (your) infinite inquisitiveness.”