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Last nail: Sonia?s ire

Was Natwar Singh's exit from the External Affairs Ministry inevitable? Congress leaders who have spoken to party president Sonia Gandhi say that the writing was on the wall as early as Friday.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2005 21:01 IST

Was Natwar Singh's exit from the External Affairs Ministry inevitable? Congress leaders who have spoken to party president Sonia Gandhi say that the writing was on the wall as early as Friday.

"I've never seen Mrs Gandhi so angry," a source told HT. "She felt the honour and integrity of the Congress party had been besmirched and she was determined to get to the truth. She knows that the Congress made no money on Iraq oil. But she'll not rest till she finds out who it was who misused the party's name."

According to Congress leaders who have met Sonia Gandhi, she is livid at the suggestion that the Congress was willing to accept contributions from Iraq. Three days ago, she had a long meeting with several top Congressmen including Finance Minister P. Chidambaram to work out a legal strategy to get to the bottom of the controversy.

Mrs Gandhi is said to believe that if the allegations contained in the Volcker Report are accurate then whoever it was who received and sold the oil in the name of the Congress must have left some clues as to his identity in the papers that documented the transaction. She would like the government to have access to the papers so that this person -- or entity -- can be identified. Action will then be taken against this person or company.

Natwar Singh has a long history with the Nehru-Gandhi family dating back to his years in Jawaharlal Nehru's office. Nobody in the Congress or at 10 Janpath itself believes that he is corrupt or dishonest.

But equally, the Congress is clear that nothing must come in the way of an inquiry. It was aware that allegations of conflict of interest would be levelled against the party and the government as long as Natwar Singh was Foreign Minister. Thus it was important for him to move out of the ministry.

It was also necessary to show that Natwar Singh's son and his friends — who have been the target of many opposition allegations — were not above the law and had no special access to the Congress High Command. This was a process that had to be seen to be clean.

Congress leaders deny that the party's strategy has been influenced by tactical considerations. “Mrs Gandhi was very clear,” says a source, “that she wasn't concerned about anything the BJP said. She wanted to get at the truth because her own sense of morality was offended.”

First Published: Dec 02, 2005 21:01 IST