New Delhi, Aug. 7: The privilege notice against the Prime Minister may have caused a stir but the focus in the next few days is not likely to be so much on the “leak” as the exoneration of the Congress by the Pathak report.
For today, the “leak” dominated proceedings in both the Houses with the Opposition demanding an apology and Manmohan Singh’s resignation. Manmohan was not present in either House.
In the Rajya Sabha, members from the Samajwadi Party, Telugu Desam and the ADMK gave notices for breach of privilege. The issue led to repeated adjournments with MPs raising slogans against Manmohan and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
In the upper House, Natwar Singh made several unsuccessful attempts to have his say amid the din caused by protesting MPs.
The NDA took the “leak” seriously till afternoon. Both George Fernandes and BJP’s Vijay Kumar Malhotra had given a privilege notice against Manmohan yesterday. After an NDA meeting in L.K. Advani’s chamber this morning, another privilege notice was given in the Lok Sabha.
However, events took a turn after the Pathak report was tabled. The BJP realised the report gave them more ammunition against the government than the “leak”.
In any case, establishing breach of privilege against Manmohan would not be easy because there was no evidence. Besides, the Pathak panel was not established under the Commission of Inquiry Act. As such, the government was not bound to table it in Parliament.
So, the BJP fielded Arun Jaitley to launch a scathing attack on the findings of the report. Jaitley never repeated the word “scapegoat”, used by Advani to describe Natwar in the oil-for-food scam.
Jaitley’s argument was simply that the government allowed Justice R.S. Pathak to investigate only one part of the scandal that related to Natwar and son Jagat. The second part that related to the Congress was “covered up”.
“It is one half of an inquiry and one half of cover-up,” he said.
Jaitley departed from Advani’s argument that took a softer approach towards Natwar. He said there were two individual non-contractual beneficiaries — Natwar and the Congress.
“Our question is, why have both the beneficiaries not been treated at par' We hold no brief for Natwar Singh. But why have two standards for two beneficiaries'”
He claimed the Pathak panel suffered from “deliberate” procedural handicaps against probing the Congress’s role in the scandal.
There were basic flaws with the structure of the probe panel and the probe:
a) No criminal case was registered to stop the investigating panel from obtaining evidence through coercion
b) Though the government had assured that the Pathak panel would be given power to issue a letter rogatory and notices under Section 8B, none of these powers was given
c) The government has procedurally erred in holding an in-camera trial in a case relating to corruption.
Jaitley argued that without completing the money trail, exonerating the Congress was a “hasty” decision.
“Where was the problem in registering a case'” he asked. “Even if someone impersonated on behalf of the Congress, it still amounts to a case of cheating. Without following proper procedure and relying on evidence produced voluntarily by the government, it is hasty to exonerate the Congress.”
He said these were “preliminary comments”. “A detailed analysis of the report would follow,” he said, indicating a renewed focus on the findings of the report in the days to come.
Faces and firms in the oil scam report
Key personalities that figure in the Pathak report. Observations culled from the report
Son of former external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh and once a general secretary
of the youth wing of the Congress. Used his position in Youth Congress to solicit business for his friends
The businessman-friend of Jagat Singh and the main direct beneficiary of the oil scam.
Natwar wrote to the Iraqi oil minister that he knew Sehgal and his company personally
Another beneficiary. He partnered Andaleeb Sehgal to set up INDRUS, a company registered on the Channel Islands mainly to do business with Russia. The company figures on the money trail traced by the Pathak committee probe
The Delhi-based partner of Andaleeb Sehgal in Hamdaan Exports, a beneficiary of the oil voucher scam
A one-time general secretary of the youth wing of the Congress in Rajasthan, who advised Andaleeb on securing business in Iraq. He claimed he was close to the then Iraqi ambassadorin India
The London-based consultant who introduced Aditya Khanna to Swiss company Masefield. Khanna had been looking around for a company with the experience of doing business in Iraq
The secretary of the Congress’s foreign affairs department, headed by Natwar. Mathrani coordinated the visit of the Congress delegation to Iraq
A trading company which bagged two contracts for purchasing oil from Iraq under the UN oil-for-food programme, then under sanctions. Andaleeb owned the company in partnership with Vikas Dhar
Headquartered at Zag, Switzerland, Masefield describes itself as a global energy trading companies which deals mainly in oil. It lifted the Iraqi crude in lieu of rights obtained by