The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM leaves open Natwar cabinet role

Nov. 8: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said a decision has yet to be taken on whether Natwar Singh, now a minister without portfolio, should continue to be part of the cabinet’s core committees.

Speaking at Patna airport after a brief election tour of Bihar, Manmohan said: “We are proud that on unsubstantiated grounds, we have withdrawn his portfolio. There are only two references to Natwar Singh and the Congress in the report under question.

“We have decided to go into the depth of the matter. The probe has been assigned to Justice R.S. Pathak, who has the distinction of being the only living Indian to be a part of the International Court of Justice. The investigation is in very competent hands.”

On Natwar’s statement ' made on Sunday when he was still foreign minister ' that he was in favour of revising the Iran vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency meet, the Prime Minister said: “A final stand on this issue has not been taken so far. The matter is being discussed at various forums. A vote might not be required at all.”

In reply to questions, the Prime Minister held that the image of his government had not been sullied by the allegations contained in the UN report on the “oil-for-food” programme because they were not backed by proof.

But asked if he felt Natwar was prima facie involved in the scam, Manmohan said: “No comment should be made at this stage. The truth will come out.”

Natwar and the Congress have been named as non-contractual beneficiaries of the UN programme for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

“We will see.' A decision will be taken soon,” the Prime Minister said to questions whether Natwar would continue in the government’s core committees even after losing his portfolio. Yesterday, Natwar had attended a meeting of the cabinet sub-committee on sports in his new avatar.

But the Opposition BJP made it clear it was not satisfied with Natwar losing his portfolio. The party said it would not “keep quiet” till he was dropped from the Union council of ministers and cases were registered against those “named and unnamed” in the UN report.

Party spokesman Arun Jaitley said in Delhi: “Truth has a habit of coming out and inconvenient as it may be for the Congress, the truth will come out.”

More “startling” facts could come out about Natwar, Jaitley said. The Volcker report has “eroded” the authority of the Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and “exposed” the Left, which has been occupying the Opposition space and claiming the moral high ground even as it enjoys proximity to the Centre, he added.

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