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Govt split on Natwar

New Delhi, Nov. 4: Serious differences of perception on the Natwar Singh controversy are visible in the ruling establishment.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is believed to favour an early probe into the veracity or otherwise of the allegations contained in the UN report on the Iraqi oil-for-food programme against the external affairs minister, but some of his senior colleagues prefer a go-slow approach.

Even Sonia Gandhi apparently does not want Natwar’s exit. ( )

Those against his departure are advising the government to seek a clarification from the Volcker committee that prepared the report on the charges levelled against Natwar and the Congress.

Sources said neither the minister nor the party was notified and given a chance to respond to charges that they reaped monetary gains from Saddam Hussein’s oil allotments under the UN programme.

Government sources said the Prime Minister would like Natwar to step down if and when a probe was ordered.

Singh wanted a probe to be announced with the terms of reference late last night itself following the statement of intent issued by the Prime Minister’s Office of the government’s determination to get to the “root of the matter”.

But a section of the establishment felt that in this case, it was perhaps untenable to order an inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act because its scope would go beyond India and involve the government of Iraq and others.

“No inquiry will be possible unless information and evidence can be solicited from Iraq and other countries. The legal implications of such an exercise will then have to be considered,” they said.

There was also a view that because India is a member of the UN, it cannot legally contest the findings of its report.

The author of the report, Paul Volcker’s statement that the UN enjoyed legal immunity was taken note of by those who were against an immediate inquiry.

Others, however, argued that the fact of India’s UN membership was not an impediment because “the scope (of the proposed probe) only concerns the charges levelled against a national party and a senior minister”.

As Delhi was agog with rumours of a group of ministers, headed by defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, being set up to go into the controversy, for the present Mukherjee is said to be merely “perusing” the Volcker report.

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