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Natwar will be punished if found guilty: Sonia

Hurt and angered by Volcker charges, Sonia says if UN panel documents are found true, she won't protect the guilty.

india Updated: Nov 16, 2005 12:24 IST

In her first formal reaction to the Volcker Committee report, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday warned of stern action against “any person” who was found involved in the Iraqi oil scandal by the inquiry committees set up by the Centre.

Emotional and candid on the controversy that led to K. Natwar Singh’s resignation as the external affairs minister, Sonia admitted that she was “very angry and hurt” that “someone misused” the name of the Congress if the documents, on the basis of which the Volcker Committee named the minister and the party in its report, were “authentic”.

At the Q&A session that followed Sonia’s keynote address at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, the ball was set rolling by HT’s Editorial Director Vir Sanghvi, who posed the question that most people at the summit had on their minds. In response, the Congress president distanced herself and the party from Natwar Singh. She also spiked the speculation that the former external affairs minister had her protection in the wake of the Volcker report.

“I had a close working relationship (with Natwar),” Sonia said. “There was a certain feeling (when the allegation surfaced) whether it is so. Is it possible? But I said from the beginning that if these documents are authentic, then I will certainly not protect anyone indulging in such activities,” Sonia told her appreciative audience.

Earlier, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurated the summit, calling for “a new wave of city-building for the 21st century” and pointing out that the need of the hour is “infrastructure which is world-class and can cater to the needs of a rising population”. He said cities, which shelter a third of our population, could not be ignored. HT Media Limited vice-chairperson Shobhana Bhartia welcomed the guests at the meet.

Sonia was remarkably frank when asked whether she was still angry about the Congress’s name being dragged into the oil-for-food scam.

"It's a bit subdued now," she said. She described as "very serious" the allegations that someone could have made money using the Congress's name and disputed suggestions that the party was culpable.

"It is necessary to clear the Congress's name as soon as possible. When the issue came up, I was of the view that the government should institute an inquiry to find out what the truth is. I'm 100 per cent with the government on getting to the bottom of it. And I hope they will do it in the shortest possible time. If anyone is found to be involved, action will be taken," she said.

And though she said that Natwar Singh had himself stepped down in the wake of the inquiry instituted by the Centre, the Congress chief made no secret of the fact that she was "very hurt and angry" on getting to know the nature of the allegations.

On a different plane, Sonia supported the inquiry to change the cynical public perception about the political class and parties.

The accountability process and the urge to come clean, she suggested, was the only way to correct the picture.

On the question of the UPA's ties with the Left, she said dialogues and consultations were the answer to bridge differences on issues.

She dispelled apprehensions that the Left's articulation on issues would slow down the pace of economic reforms or adversely affect the longevity of the Manmohan Singh government, recalling that nothing had happened to the Vajpayee regime which also had to deal with a host of allies.

"We will stay committed to economic reforms. There is no way we will go back on it," said Sonia. She admitted there could be some differences "here and there" in a coalition but there is a wide agenda to which the allies are committed. She felt that sometimes the media tended to "exaggerate" the gap in thinking. "But you have to be in business…" she said, her tongue-in-cheek remark setting off yet another round of laughter that marked her interaction with the audience.

The UPA chairperson sprung to the defence of her Left allies and the NGOs with whom she works in the National Advisory Council.

Asked whether she was annoyed with the "jholawalas" (allusion to NGO activists) who seemed to be over-critical of the government, Sonia said most of them were doing good work though there could be exceptions. "I don't know why there is this impression about them. Their style of working is different but they are sincere and extremely dedicated," she said.

"I don't know why there is this impression about them. Their style of working is different but they are sincere and extremely dedicated," she said.

First Published: Nov 16, 2005 03:00 IST