The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Innocent’ Natwar in rescue act
- Minister resigns to disarm Opposition

New Delhi, Dec. 6: Natwar Singh announced his resignation tonight, using the face-saver that he was stepping down to rob the Opposition of an excuse to stall Parliament and not because he was guilty.

“I maintain that I am completely innocent, no charges have either been proved or framed against me,” the former external affairs minister said.

Earlier in the day, he met Congress president Sonia Gandhi for the second time in two days, triggering speculation that he had made up with his party leader.

Natwar’s resignation came after another day of turmoil in Parliament as the Opposition showed it was not satisfied with last night’s statement by the Congress that the minister had offered to quit, but would wait for the Prime Minister to return from Moscow.

He said he did not wish to be the excuse for the Opposition to continue to disrupt important legislative business. “Hence, I have decided to tender my resignation from the Union council of ministers despite the fact that I have not violated any law in letter or spirit.”

Natwar’s son Jagat Singh, who has been doing much of the speaking for the past few days, had earlier in the day struck out at “some intellectuals” in the Congress for baying for his father’s blood.

The reference would have been to Kapil Sibal, who wondered in public yesterday why Natwar did not take the hint from the party and resign. Sources said a close aide of Sonia pulled up Sibal today to make Natwar happy and achieve the purpose of extracting the resignation.

It could not be ascertained, however, if Sibal had been put up by the leadership in the first place to say what he did.

Although the Opposition National Democratic Alliance said it would decide at a meeting of legislators its next step, chances are Parliament would return to functioning normally from tomorrow, though demands for the resignation of Sonia as head of the National Advisory Council could continue.

“The demand for Sonia Gandhi’s resignation will remain a political slogan and the issue will slowly peter out,” said a BJP leader.

Sources in the BJP said the party was happy with Natwar being the “prize trophy” and its MPs would not disrupt Parliament again on the Volcker report on the Iraqi oil-for-food scam unless “something sensational comes up”.

The BJP’s refusal to debate the report has given the fumbling United Progressive Alliance some ammunition to launch a counter-attack.

Congress spokesman Anand Sharma said: “Why don’t they debate the issue if they are so serious about it' The fact is that they had no coherent arguments at the time they brought an adjournment motion and they have nothing to say now. Their policy is to play this low-level, malicious game of levelling baseless charges which, I seriously suspect, they don’t have the courage to back up.”

He was particularly scathing on Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh’s attempts to link Sonia to the Volcker report. He implied that the Samajwadi leader, along with some from the BJP, could be “in deep trouble” once the Justice Pathak inquiry into the Volcker allegations completed its probe.

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