Four days after the controversy over a Finance Ministry note to the Prime Minister’s Office on the 2G spectrum allocation triggered speculation of a serious rift between the two seniormost Ministers in the Union Cabinet, Congress president Sonia Gandhi finally stepped in on Monday.
In the evening, in quick succession, she had meetings with Home Minister P. Chidambaram — whose resignation the Opposition has demanded, and shortly thereafter, with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Interestingly — as sources in the party pointed out — Ms. Gandhi held the first meeting only after Mr. Mukherjee’s plane from the United States touched down at Palam. He drove straight to North Block to confer with his officials, who were asked to prepare a note on the background to the Finance Ministry document.
It was accessed from the PMO through an RTI application filed by the BJP’s RTI unit.
While a final resolution of the current crisis will, the sources said, have to await the return of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from the U.S. late on Tuesday evening, Ms. Gandhi’s conversations with the two Ministers were the first serious step taken to sort out a problem that had plunged the already embattled government into yet another crisis.
Both Ministers have said, separately, they will speak publicly only after Dr. Singh is back.
Mr. Mukherjee, the sources said, may address the press on Wednesday or Thursday and, if possible, with Mr. Chidambaram to demonstrate solidarity. Indeed, he told journalists shortly before he met Ms. Gandhi that Mr. Chidambaram was “a valued colleague” and a “pillar of strength for the party and government.”
Meanwhile, even as unconfirmed reports suggested that the Home Minister had offered his resignation to Ms. Gandhi, the sources pointed out that Tuesday’s hearing on the petition filed by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy in the Supreme Court, seeking a CBI investigation into Mr. Chidambaram’s role in the 2G case — when he was the Finance Minister — would be crucial. In case, the court accepted Dr. Swamy’s plea, Mr. Chidambaram’s continuance in the Cabinet could become untenable, they said.
However, sources close to Mr. Mukherjee said that since the 2G matter was in court, the PMO should not have released any documents relating to it to a RTI applicant.
But when Law Minister Salman Khurshid was asked whether the government was bound to provide documents on a matter in court to an RTI applicant, he said that while legally when a matter was sub judice, nothing should be done to prejudice the case, the question whether to have a “firewall” or not for RTI could be examined.
Minister of State in the PMO V. Narayanswamy was more direct: regardless of whether a document could influence a case, no official could block its release, if it was sought through RTI.