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Leak helps Natwar, heat on PM

New Delhi, Aug. 4: After the Pathak probe, a probe into the leak of its findings, giving time to Natwar Singh and son to breathe.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh became the target of Opposition attack today since Justice R.S. Pathak submitted the report to him last evening and within half-an-hour its purported contents began to leak out.

The focus is now on the leak and not on the probe and what it has found on Natwar, son Jagat Singh and associates Andaleeb Sehgal and Aditya Khanna, who are believed to have made money in the oil-for-food scandal.

According to the leaks, Natwar and Jagat misused their positions in the Congress to acquire oil contracts from the Saddam Hussein regime. But no financial misdemeanour on their part has reportedly been found.

The Opposition is planning to move a breach of privilege motion against the Prime Minister.

The government responded to the rising storm with an inquiry into the leak. Parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said an independent agency would conduct the probe.

Another damage-containment move was started to put together an action-taken report (ATR) based on the Pathak probe, supplemented with inputs from a separate inquiry by the enforcement directorate, and table it this session itself.

Sources said the ATR and the report on the leak would be placed together.

According to a road map tentatively drawn up by Congress strategists, once the ATR is ready, it will be cleared by the cabinet and tabled. A 15-day timetable has been worked out which means that, allowing for holidays and adjournments, the government will be able to place the ATR and the report on the leak before August 25.

If the BJP insisted, the sources said, the government was ready to discuss the matter with a reply from the Prime Minister or defence minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Politically, the Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are said to be against taking action against Natwar and Jagat. Congress sources said contrary to their expectation that Natwar would play the “sacrificial goat” to the hilt, he asserted loyalty to the party.

“The only strength I had was the Congress party. So how can the Congress and I be divorced'” the former external affairs minister said.

If the party issued a show-cause notice to him and Jagat, “I will say I or my son had no position to misuse,” Natwar said.

He pointed a finger at P. Chidambaram for the leak. “The Enforcement Directorate (ED) is not with Manmohan Singh… but with the finance minister.”

Jagat threatened to take ED to court. He admitted that his father wrote the letters to the Saddam Hussein government which are being cited as proof of their guilt in misusing their positions.

“But neither is oil mentioned in the letters, neither is contracts mentioned, neither is business mentioned, neither is any money mentioned,” he said.

“If a politician is approached by an individual or Indian businessman and asked for a letter of introduction, a letter of introduction is given. That is what politicians do,” Jagat added.

Although Sonia had reportedly taken note of the way Natwar had hobnobbed with the BJP, CPM and the Samajwadi Party to bring a resolution on the Indo-US nuclear deal, party sources said they wished to be certain of his and his son’s roles in the deal before acting.

“Don’t drag Sonia Gandhi into this,” Natwar told a TV channel when asked if a Congress coterie was acting against him at her instance.

A late-night report said Samajwadi leader Amar Singh had gone over to Natwar’s house.

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