New Delhi, Nov. 5: External affairs minister K. Natwar Singh has rejected demands for his resignation after a UN report named him as a beneficiary in an Iraqi oil-for-food programme.
“Why should I (resign)' The BJP can’t decide who the foreign minister of India will be,” he said on television today.
Natwar claimed that since the controversy erupted, it had not crossed his mind even once to put in his papers. He enjoyed the “full confidence” of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the minister added. “I am told that I am doing a good job, so do you expect me to go to the PM and say that since I am doing a good job, I am putting in my papers'” he asked.
Asked how he would react if his portfolio was changed, Natwar said he was in public life and “if you can’t take the heat in the kitchen, then you go out”.
He described the allegations against him and the Congress ' which has also been named a beneficiary ' as “outrageous” and said neither was involved in any oil deal under the Saddam Hussein regime. On “behalf of the Congress party and as India’s foreign minister”, he rejected the report.
“To say that the Congress was involved in an oil scam is outrageous. A party which is identified with leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Rajaji, Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad and Indira Gandhi does not have to deal in oil,” the minister said.
As a former diplomat, the only “emotion” he was allowed was that of “controlled indignation”, Natwar said. He stressed that he had nothing to do with the Swiss oil company Masefield AG, which according to the UN report bought oil under the scheme, and that he had never “seen a barrel of oil” in his life.
On the link between his son Jagat Singh and Andaleep Sehgal of Hamadan Export, which is accused of paying the surcharge on the oil deal, the minister said the two were “friends” but had no business dealings.
In a separate interview, Jagat protested his “innocence” and said he did not “recognise” the Volcker report and its “baseless” findings.
Responding to the charge levelled by a Baghdad-based Indian businessman, Hari Darshan Mejie, that he had procured the oil contract through him (Mejie), Natwar challenged the “gentleman” to “produce the evidence”.
On the allegation that he had delivered a letter signed by Sonia to the erstwhile Iraqi regime, the minister said: “The letter spoke of the US sanctions and of children dying. The Congress president said her party had had long links with the Baath party and offered her solidarity with the regime.”
The letter, he added, was handed over to the then deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz.