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Signs of crisis in govt clear, Pranab to meet PM

delhi Updated: Sep 24, 2011 13:00 IST
Ht Correspondents

In the face of mounting pressure from the opposition, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is expected to have an unscheduled meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New York on Sunday morning before heading home.

"I will be reaching (New York) on Saturday night rather than Sunday afternoon (local time) as scheduled…," Mukherjee confirmed.

He, however, did not specify reasons for rescheduling his itinerary. A government official in Delhi said the reasons were "obvious".

The last-minute decision to tweak Mukherjee's itinerary came on a day the BJP relentlessly continued its attack on the government, by targeting the Prime Minister after he backed home minister P Chidambaram.

The finance ministry note on the 2G spectrum issue that has put Chidambaram in the eye of a political storm was the result of an inter-departmental effort to mount a common defence in the face of the Supreme Court case and the public accounts committee proceedings on the allocation of telecom spectrum.

The proposal to prepare the note — a bureaucratic exercise aimed at fortifying the government's defence — came from the Prime Minister’s office (PMO) and then cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar early this year.

Instead, it became a controversial document that provided ammunition for the opposition to create fissures within the government.

The Bharatiya Janata Party on Friday asked the Prime Minister to clarify his stand on Chidambaram's role in the 2G spectrum case.

"At whose instance did the finance ministry prepare the note for the PMO? ... The country is certainly entitled to know if the PMO had asked for the note. If yes, why was there no follow-up action?" BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

Highly placed sources told HT that the document was prepared as a background paper to enable stakeholders to take a common position in the face of the Supreme Court case and the PAC hearings on the issue.

The note was not just the handiwork of the finance ministry.

It was the outcome of several meetings between officials of the PMO, the cabinet secretariat and the finance and telecommunication ministries.

The jointly authored note was routinely shown to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee before it was sent to Vini Mahajan, joint secretary in charge of telecommunications in the PMO, the sources said.

Mukerhjee, it is learnt, is upset because the document is being attributed to him despite having no direct role in its drafting and also surprised that it found its way to an RTI activist even while it was known to all that the matter with which it dealt was sub-judice.

Finance ministry deputy director PGS Rao, who signed the note and sent it to Mahajan, was not its sole author as the draft on which it was based was worked upon in the offices of the cabinet secretary and the PM.

The draft was altered and finalised in the course of meetings where finance and telecom ministry officials were also present, the sources claimed.

Those who participated in these discussions starting early this year included the cabinet and telecom secretaries and the economic affairs secretary and additional secretary, besides Mahajan and Rao.

The latter is with the infrastructure and investment division in the finance ministry’s department of economic affairs.

Government sources said Singh and Mukherjee had been in constant touch on the phone.

The meeting on Sunday morning, however, will be the first opportunity for the Prime Minister to discuss the government strategy to counter the opposition onslaught with the finance minister, also the UPA's main trouble-shooter.

Mukherjee, however, made it clear that he was "not cutting short any official engagements in New York".

The FM had a media briefing lined up for Sunday morning in Washington DC.

"This engagement will be rescheduled to later today (local time)," a government source said.

He will take a United Airlines flight to New York on Saturday night and spend the night at the same hotel as the PM.