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Natwar turns leak gun on PM
Manmohan, Natwar

New Delhi, Aug. 6: Natwar Singh has moved a breach of privilege notice against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for allegedly leaking the Pathak committee report on the oil-for-food scandal, inviting action from his party, the Congress.

Parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi called Natwar’s move an act of “absolute indiscipline”.

Several parties, with Amar Singh of the Samajwadi Party in the forefront, are siding with Natwar, who has reportedly been held guilty in the Pathak report, along with son Jagat, of misusing his position to help people close to them acquire Iraqi oil contracts.

The Rajya Sabha secretariat confirmed receiving the breach of privilege notice. The House chairman, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, will now decide whether to accept the notice, reject it or refer it to a committee.

On Thursday, when the leaked report made its way to the media soon after being submitted to the Prime Minister, Natwar had not sounded belligerent towards the Congress, saying that he could never be divorced from the party.

There were also unofficial signals from the party that it was not going to rush into any action against him. It seems obvious to assume that efforts would have been made between Thursday and today by Natwar to gauge the attitude of the Congress leadership. He might have been looking for a supportive statement, which has not come through.

The former external affairs minister would have taken the extreme action of going after the Prime Minister only when he was certain that the Congress — Sonia Gandhi, to be precise — would not back him.

Having realised that, Natwar has rallied support from sections of the political spectrum ranging from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to the Samajwadi Party to the CPI.

Other than Natwar, members of several Opposition parties are expected to move privilege notices. The BJP is moving one. “We will bring in a privilege motion in both houses of Parliament tomorrow,” party spokesman V.K. Malhotra said.

Amar, who met Natwar, said he brought along messages of support from Jayalalithaa’s ADMK and N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party. At least 25 members have to support a privilege motion for it to be accepted.

George Fernandes, the NDA convener, also met Natwar.

In the notice, Natwar has asked how the Pathak report came to be leaked. He alleged that the government had violated parliamentary norms by publicising the contents of the report when the House was in session.

As part of its damage-control effort, the government is expected to table the probe report along with an action-taken report in Parliament tomorrow. The cabinet is meeting before the House convenes.

 

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