The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Natwar knot ties up Cong
- Party grapples with cabinet dilemma

New Delhi, Dec. 3: Natwar Singh today called on the Prime Minister amid mounting concern in the Congress over the political cost of retaining the portfolio-less minister after fresh claims linked him to the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.

Official sources said after Natwar met Manmohan Singh that the former foreign minister did not offer to resign from the cabinet and neither did the “government” indicate he should.

The “unscheduled”, 40-minute meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence was also attended by national security adviser M.K. Narayanan.

While the government stuck to the position that the minister without portfolio will not be “pressured” to resign, there was perceptible anxiety in the Congress on how events would pan out in Parliament next week if Natwar stayed on.

The Opposition, which has concentrated its firepower on Congress president Sonia Gandhi, has begun to marshal its forces to renew the assault in the House. The BJP has issued a whip to its members to be present in Parliament “all through five days” next week. Other NDA allies are also expected to issue similar whips.

Congress sources conceded that Natwar has become a liability but the party is apprehensive that out of office, he might end up playing the “victim” and point a finger at the Congress for its “culpability” because the Paul Volcker report had mentioned the party also as a “beneficiary”.

Natwar’s son Jagat Singh, also named in the report, has already sought to drag the party leadership into the muddle, suggesting in an interview that his father was the target of an internal “conspiracy”. Natwar out of work, said a Congress leader, was “perhaps more troublesome than in office”.

Anil Mathrani, whose purported remarks linking Natwar to the scandal touched off the new round of uproar, will return from Croatia late tonight. Recalled from the post of Croatian ambassador, Mathrani will have to surrender his diplomatic passport on arrival.

Sources said Mathrani is likely to be questioned by the Enforcement Directorate on the allegations he made against Natwar, Jagat and Andaleeb Sehgal, an associate of the minister’s son.

Officially, too, the Congress indicated that while it was prepared to go the whole hog to defend its president, Natwar will have to take care of himself.

“Our stand does not get strengthened by anybody resigning and neither does it get weakened by someone continuing. Everybody can take care of himself,” AICC general secretary Ambika Soni said.

An isolated Natwar today put up a brave face and almost likened himself to Mangal Pandey, the “hero” of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, while releasing an eponymous book.

Natwar said he would face the “struggle” that arose from the chain of events set off by the Volcker report. “There is a struggle, we will face it,” he said, asked if he found himself in the same situation as Mangal Pandey.

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