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Minister all-clear breathes life into govt

Cong finds its confidence

New Delhi, Feb. 4: The Manmohan Singh government today got a fresh lease of life as home minister P. Chidambaram’s fall would have demolished the last line of defence insulating the top leadership from the spectrum heat that has scorched the ruling alliance.

Congress leaders believe that the credibility crisis the government has been grappling with over several months is so acute that even Chidambaram’s exit from the cabinet would not have salvaged the situation created by an adverse court judgment.

“It would have rendered our continuance in office untenable. It is after all better to give up than dragging on with a lame duck government,” said a senior Congress leader, expressing relief at the dismissal of the plea to make Chidambaram a co-accused in the 2G case.

Even a good showing in the Assembly elections, including a possible turnaround in Uttar Pradesh, would have failed to lift the Congress out of the morass had Chidambaram been put in the dock today.

A resignation by a top cabinet minister because of an adverse court verdict in the middle of electioneering would have sucked the life out of the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh, which has been woven around corruption and misgovernance.

Congress leaders admit the Opposition would have shifted focus from everything else to Chidambaram and screamed for the Prime Minister’s resignation, spoiling the budget session due to begin soon after the election results.

The Congress, even if it has a satisfactory showing in the election, will now go to Parliament with renewed confidence as the 2G monkey is finally off its back.

The Congress hopes the 2G scam will now be limited to A. Raja’s personal culpability though the petitioner against Chidambaram, Subramanian Swamy, has declared his intent to pursue the case in the higher courts.

The Congress is attaching little significance to that threat, as reflected in HRD minister Kapil Sibal’s sarcasm: “Swamy will go to the HC, then SC and then to God to appeal against Chidambaram.” Sibal said today’s court order was a vindication of the Congress and the government’s stand.

Criticising the media for creating such a frenzy about Chidambaram’s role in the allocation of spectrum, Sibal asked the BJP to apologise to the nation and the minister for spreading falsehood despite there being no case registered against him anywhere in the country.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi too demanded an apology from the BJP for maligning the minister without credible evidence. The BJP had been boycotting Chidambaram in Parliament.

The sense of relief, even joy, in a section of the party, was such that several ministers came out to speak on the judgment. From Pranab Mukherjee to Ambika Soni and Salman Khurshid, everybody welcomed the verdict and argued that Chidambaram had been unnecessarily targeted.

“It is a good judgment. It is a relief for the government. Someone was being unnecessarily prosecuted. I welcome the judgment,” Mukherjee said on the sidelines of a programme at the Indian Statistical Institute in Baranagar.

Soni went on the offensive, saying: “We know Swamy. He does these things to keep himself afloat in the political arena. He files cases against everybody and often gets rebuffed by the courts.”

Asked about his threat to go to the higher courts, the I&B minister said: “Truth can be tested anywhere. We never had any doubt about Chidambaram’s innocence.”

Party spokesperson Manish Tewari hoped the matter would be laid to rest as both the Supreme Court and the trial court had “substantially spoken in the same vein.”

The Congress sees this phase as an ideal opportunity to restore its credibility and regain the glory of its first term. Its second term has been marred by several crises, from judicial snubs to scandals, from political bungling to public agitation.

But the party is convinced this is the time to turn over a new leaf and a good showing in the Assembly elections will create the engine for change.