The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mathrani mud makes Cong dig deep

New Delhi, Dec. 10: The muckraking is getting murkier and the Congress is trying to figure out who saddled the party with Anil Mathrani, the former Croatian ambassador who is turning into a millstone around its neck following the Volcker report scandal.

As a magazine published a report with quotes from a former housekeeper that portrayed Mathrani as a playboy, the Congress sought to distance itself from him by saying that he was not an AICC member.

A senior leader said that though Mathrani was the secretary of the Congress’s foreign affairs cell, he was not involved in the political affairs of the party. Neither was he a spokesman on foreign policy when the Congress was out of power, the leader added.

However, other party sources conceded that unless Mathrani had a “powerful” backer, he could not have secured the Croatian ambassador’s post.

The three other political appointees as ambassadors after the UPA government came to power are Meem Afzal (Angola), M..H. Farooq (Saudi Arabia) and Ajay Singh (Fiji).

Afzal, formerly of the Janata Dal, is an acolyte of Ghulam Nabi Azad and close to the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid. Farooq is a former Pondicherry chief minister. Singh, who was a deputy minister for railways in the V.P. Singh government, was picked because of his family’s close association with Fiji.

“These three appointees were persons of standing, no one can cast aspersions on their background and credentials,” a Congress leader said.

A covert search is on in the Congress to find out who swung the job for Mathrani. Sources said the haste with which he was appointed suggested that someone was operating under pressure.

The magazine carries comments attributed to Duska Bilic, who briefly worked as a housekeeper in Mathrani’s residence in the Croation capital, casting aspersions on Mathrani’s character and linking him to women. Mathrani could not be contacted for comment.

Disconcerted with the claims, Congress sources pleaded ignorance of the man who was a regular at 24 Akbar Road ' the party headquarters ' until he got the foreign posting.

The sources said the only “substantive” piece of information they could gather on Mathrani was his “dislike” of former external affairs minister Natwar Singh.

Mathrani’s purported comments linking the former foreign minister to the Iraq oil-for-food scandal had triggered a fresh uproar and cost Natwar his berth-without-portfolio.

Mathrani was an aide of sorts to whoever headed the AICC’s foreign affairs cell. When Natwar was at the helm of the cell, “complaints” apparently trickled in.

“Mathrani would corner one of us and try to crib about Natwar. But nobody paid attention to him. Now we can only assume that his damaging disclosures of Natwar stemmed from something unpleasant that happened during this period,” a source said.

This is the reason why the sources conceded for the first time that Natwar’s perceived role in Mathrani’s appointment was a “grey area”.

“If their relations had soured when we were in the Opposition, why would Natwar have gone out of his way to get him an instant reward'” a Congress leader asked.

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