The conflict between the Government and Opposition over the issue of involvement of home minister P Chidambaram in the 2G muddle intensified further on Friday. The BJP demanded Chidambaram's ouster from the government saying that his culpability in the spectrum issue was evident.
However, Congress party president Sonia Gandhi has directed top leaders in the party to put up a joint defence against attack on Chidambaram, according to party insiders.
The BJP has stepped up its demand for Chidambaram's ouster after a finance ministry note to the Prime Minister's Office in March surfaced, which said Chidambaram could have prevented the spectrum from being given away at throwaway prices.
BJP on Friday asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to clarify his stand on the alleged involvement of then finance minister P Chidambaram in the 2G spectrum case and wondered if the latter is not being sacked as PMO fears the "embers of the fire" may reach it.Reiterating its demand for the resignation of Chidambaram, BJP wanted to know at whose behest was the much-publicized note by the finance ministry prepared?
"At whose insistence 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.
Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi, who has recently returned after a surgery abroad, is learnt to have stepped in to resolve the crisis involving one of the government's most high profile ministers.
"Soniaji has asked all top leaders - from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to party spokespersons - to defend Chidambaram and the government," a senior Congress leader said on conditions of anonymity.
"She knows that this is an explosive issue. Yesterday it was A Raja and Dayanidhi Maran (ministers who had to quit over the 2G spectrum row), today it is Chidambaram and tomorrow it can be Manmohan Singh. She wants to stop the slide," he added.
Corporate affairs minister M Veerappa Moily's strong defence of Chidambaram on Friday and the home minister's statement that he would not comment on the issue till the Prime Minister returns from his foreign visit are learnt to have been directed by Gandhi. Video: PM backs PC
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the AIADMK have launched a vehement attack on the Government and demanded Chidambaram's resignation.
Though Congress leaders deny talk of a Mukherjee-Chidambaram rift being the root cause behind the controversial note, political analysts and party insiders say there is a "recurring cold war" between the two.
"The rivalry between the two financial wizards has been escalating in the past two years. Soniaji was aware of the issue and had intervened to defuse the situation occasionally," said a Congress leader.
"The cold war has been surfacing through various incidents and on different occasions. A major incident was when Mukherjee confirmed on June 22 that he had suspected that his finance ministry offices were bugged in September 2010 and had sought a secret inquiry," said an analyst.
The needle of suspicion then had pointed to intelligence agencies controlled by Chidambaram's home ministry.
Supporters of Mukherjee are believed to have told Gandhi that the veteran leader's trouble-shooting capabilities and political skills were often ignored and "administrative tough actions" advocated by Chidambaram were enforced, leading to fresh crises.
"The latest example was the handling of the fast by civil society leader Anna Hazare in August," said another party leader.
He said Hazare was arrested on August 16 on the direction of Chidambaram, prompting massive protests that led to the activist being released.
The group of ministers led by Chidambaram, who were handling the Hazare fast, was replaced by a team led by Mukherjee and law minister Salman Khurshid. The new team could broker peace and end the 10-day-old fast by Hazare, the Congress leader added.
Kerala-based political analyst BRP Bhaskar said that the Mukherjee-Chidambaram rift may continue till Rahul Gandhi takes a more leading role in the Congress.
"Some infighting had been common in Congress... With a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty usually on the top slot earlier, the fight had been for the second or the third place.
"But now it is different. With Sonia Gandhi recuperating and Rahul Gandhi yet to take over the top post in the party or the government, several leaders and ministers will be working against each other," Bhaskar said over the phone.
With PTI and IANS inputs