New Delhi, Dec. 4: A day after meeting the Prime Minister, Natwar Singh announced that he was not going to quit.
The minister-without-portfolio said in a statement: “There has been a great deal of speculation in the media about why I have not resigned. It is not because of any love of office that I am not resigning. To resign now would look, to many people, as an admission of guilt.”
His refusal to quit leaves the Opposition with enough firewood to keep Parliament boiling. Its attack on the government over the Volcker report on the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal was invigorated by allegations by the ambassador to Croatia and a Natwar prot'g', Anil Mathrani, that the former external affairs minister was involved in the illegal transactions with the Saddam Hussein regime.
Earlier, the Congress leadership had hoped that Natwar would step down on his own. It’s not clear if his statement today has the party’s sanction or the Prime Minister’s consent.
If he has acted without the knowledge of either, Natwar would be seen to be thumbing his nose at Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.
“I am not guilty of any wrongdoing in law or spirit. I refuse to sacrifice myself,” Natwar said. He added that if he quit the cabinet, “it will not stop with me. The Opposition will use my resignation to further tarnish the reputation of the Congress party. I will not let this happen”.
Asked what he would do if Natwar quit on his own, Manmohan Singh told reporters aboard his flight to Moscow: “If a person takes a decision voluntarily and if the situation arises, we will consider what is to be done.”
Obviously, the Prime Minister is not prepared to commit his hand. Sources close to him said Natwar’s exit at this juncture would be “prejudicial” to the probe being conducted by Justice Pathak into the allegations in the Volcker report. It would also be perceived as “capitulating” under BJP pressure.