The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tape replay topples George minister

Ranchi, June 30: A Tehelka-like scandal erupted on George Fernandes’ party today, compelling him to preside over penal proceedings that culminated in the dismissal of state revenue minister Madhu Singh.

Singh has been sacked on charges of negotiating a Rs 50-lakh “advance” to help an unidentified man secure the support of legislators to contest the Rajya Sabha elections.

Singh lost the primary membership of the Janata Dal (United), of which Fernandes is the national president, and the cabinet berth after a vernacular daily carried a report based on a tape featuring a purported conversation between the minister and the aspiring candidate.

The decision to formally suspend Singh was announced by Fernandes this morning. “It (the bribery scandal) is a shameful act which will have a demoralising effect on the party,” said the former defence minister, who had to resign in the wake of the Tehelka sting operation that sucked some of his party colleagues into a defence deal scam.

A defiant Singh struck back by raking up the Tehelka parallel and attacking Fernandes. “Jaya Jaitly (the president of Fernandes’ Samata Party that later merged with the Dal) was portrayed in the video clippings recorded by Tehelka reporters. There was enough evidence against her. But Fernandes continued to defend her.

“Similarly, in spite of being tainted in the Tehelka exposé, Fernandes returned to the cabinet. Fernandes had come to Jharkhand to strengthen the party. Instead, he has torn the organisation into pieces,” Singh told The Telegraph at his residence this evening.

The scandal has broken at a time when the National Democratic Alliance, whose convener is Fernandes, is running a campaign against “tainted ministers” in the Manmohan Singh ministry.

Party leaders said Singh refused to either meet or speak to Fernandes. Chief minister Arjun Munda said he, too, tried to reason with Singh, who alleged a conspiracy, but could not succeed.

“I repeatedly requested him to tender his resignation and face a probe into the charges levelled against him, but he refused to relent. Consequently, I was left with no option but to dismiss him from the cabinet,” Munda said.

The governor accepted the recommendation and the chief minister has been asked to hold additional charge of Singh’s department.

The chief minister was non-committal on whether he believed Singh was guilty. “If the Dal (United) has removed him from the party’s primary membership on the basis of a news report supported by evidence, my options remain limited. The Dal (United) is supporting our government and, therefore, we ought to honour its decisions,” Munda said.

Earlier, state Dal (United) president Gautam Sagar Rana had made public a letter to Singh, informing him of the suspension. Another letter was sent seeking an explanation within three days.

However, Singh said: “I have not received any letter either from the national president or the state president. No one from the party has handed over any letters. I have come to know about it only from the press.”

The chief minister said he would soon seek the opinion of the Assembly secretariat on probing the charges against Singh.

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