The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Natwar sniffs topple plot in party
- Minister points finger at gang of four'

New Delhi, Nov. 4: Embattled foreign minister Natwar Singh has accused four Congress leaders of using the Volcker report to try and strip him of his cabinet portfolio.

Singh’s allegation came at an hour-long meeting with CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan. Sources said these four leaders are Jairam Ramesh, Ambika Soni, Pranab Mukherjee and Kapil Sibal.

Singh had met CPM general secretary Prakash Karat last evening.

The foreign minister has denied Volcker’s allegation that he is a “non-contractual beneficiary” of Iraq’s oil-for-food programme ' a charge also levelled at the Congress separately ' and criticised his party colleagues for not defending him.

He is particularly cut up about Soni telling a news conference ' while she was giving the Congress’s first reaction to the charge ' that while the accusation against the party was baseless, “individuals should be competent to defend themselves”.

In his hour of crisis, Singh has found an ally in the Left, which wants him to continue as foreign minister because it believes he is more critical of the US than most of his cabinet colleagues are.

The minister claims he has the support of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, but none of the three statements the Congress has issued on the controversy so far can be said to have strongly defended him. The statements, sources say, could not have been circulated in the media without the party high command’s approval.

The foreign minister told the Left that the group working against him within the Congress had never wanted him to have the external affairs portfolio. Singh added that at the very beginning of cabinet formation, he had made it clear to the Prime Minister that he would not accept any other ministry.

Singh, according to the Left leaders, is also unhappy at his party’s decision to issue a legal notice to the UN.

Sources said the foreign minister, during his meeting with CPI leaders, received a telegram from Nirupam Sen, India’s permanent representative at the UN. Sen has asked the minister to persuade his party not to send a legal notice to the world body.

“How can you take action against the UN, which has 192 member nations, including India' How can India initiate action against itself'” a Left leader asked.

Singh has no intention of quitting at this juncture.

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