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Since 1st March, 1999
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Natwar drags Sonia into picture

New Delhi, Aug. 11: Natwar Singh, who first attacked the Prime Minister and then saluted him, changed his mind again today and hit out at Manmohan Singh. For the first time, he also brought up Sonia Gandhi’s name.

Saying he would not speak against her, Natwar repeated at least thrice that the Congress president had given him a letter of introduction to then President Saddam Hussein when he visited Iraq in 2001. He had handed the letter to the deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, he said.

“On my return, I briefed the Congress president in detail of our political discussions in Baghdad. I should know this because I have worked very, very closely with her for more than eight years.

“Without Sonia’s permission, no one could have gone there, especially someone as experienced as me. Not a leaf moves in the Congress without Sonia Gandhi’s knowledge,” said Natwar, adding that the delegation was “entirely political”.

Natwar and his son Jagat have been found guilty by the Pathak inquiry of helping Andaleeb Sehgal, a relative, and Aditya Khanna, a friend, secure oil contracts under the Iraqi oil-for-food programme. Andaleeb is alleged to have been included in the Congress team at the last minute.

Asked if he had shown the three letters of introduction he had written to the Iraqi oil minister for Jagat and Andaleeb to Sonia, he replied: “No, I did not.”

To another query whether he was indicted by the Pathak report to save the Congress president, he was silent.

Jagat, a Congress MLA from Rajasthan, likened the food-for-oil scam to Bofors. “What is involved in this case' Corruption. What is corruption' It is about money. What was involved in Bofors' Corruption, money. But is there any evidence to link me and my father to corruption and money' Nothing,” he said.

Natwar expressed his “sense of hurt” at the Pathak report but said he would not resign from the party.

Turned out in a slate grey suit, with a red kerchief peeping out of the breast-pocket, for the news conference on the lawns of his house on a muggy afternoon, he renewed his attack on the Prime Minister.

“Manmohan Singh is a friend and a colleague. At this juncture, the nation needs decisive, resolute and forceful leadership. What I said is no secret and the word was spoken by me as a friend to demonstrate our commitment.”

Natwar had called him a weak Prime Minister on Wednesday but changed tack and saluted him yesterday, even seeking time to express regrets.

Today, he said he had sought time not to “kneel before him (the PM)” but to discuss various “big issues”. The appointment scheduled for 1.30 pm, according to Natwar, was cancelled, not taking into consideration the “many years of long association and that he was his neighbour”.

“I wanted to question him on big issues such as the nuclear deal, US policies against Islam, what is happening in Iraq, why is Nepal writing to the UN,” he said.

Reacting to the offensive, parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said: “He should make up his mind. He is changing his statements every day.”

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