05 December 2005

Manmohan yet to make up mind on External Affairs

Natwar Singh's days in government are seriously numbered but the Government stil won't say why it slept on the news that India's ruling party and foreign minister were being implicated in corruption charges for over a year. M.K. Narayanan, National Security Advisor and India's intelligence czar, whose job it presumably was to keep abreast of the charges when they were first levelled by the CIA in September 2004, says those who speak of intelligence failure are under the influence of the CIA...

5 December 2005
The Hindu

Manmohan yet to make up mind on External Affairs

Siddharth Varadarajan

  • Cabinet reshuffle only at the end of current session of Parliament
  • `The BJP itself knows there is no substance in what it is saying in Parliament'
  • No difference in approach between Ms. Gandhi and himself on Natwar's status

On board PM's aircraft: Declaring that he did not "attach great importance to what the Bharatiya Janata Party is saying on [the Volcker Report]," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday was dismissive about the Opposition's attempts to target Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the oil-for-food affair. "The BJP itself knows there is no substance in what it is saying in Parliament," he told reporters accompanying him for the sixth bilateral India-Russia summit to be held in Moscow on Tuesday.

Asked whether he would be willing to accept the resignation of Natwar Singh if the Minister without portfolio were voluntarily to tender it, the Prime Minister said, "If a person takes a decision voluntarily, when that situation arises, we will consider what to do."

Describing his discussions on Saturday night with the former External Affairs Minister, Dr. Singh said: "He is a colleague of mine, he came to see me, we discussed various issues, particularly what has happened in the last couple of weeks. So there's nothing more significant than that." He added in response to a pointed question that there was no difference in approach between Ms. Gandhi and himself on the status of Mr. Natwar Singh.

The Prime Minister said a Cabinet reshuffle would be carried out at the end of the current session of Parliament but was non-committal about the fate of the External Affairs portfolio. Asked whether he would wait for the Pathak Committee report before filling the crucial slot — which he currently holds — Dr. Singh replied: "Well, as of now, I have not made up my mind which way to go."

In a separate conversation with reporters, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan refused to say when the Government first became aware of the oil-for-food allegations against Mr. Natwar Singh and the Congress party.

He bristled at the suggestion that there had been any "intelligence failure" manifest in the Government not reacting to these allegations when they were first made by the Central Intelligence Agency on its website on September 30, 2004. "Do you want us to be like the Gestapo," he asked, "questioning people, interrogating people? Is that what you want?" He also suggested that journalists who questioned why the Indian Government had not reacted to the CIA's allegations at the time were perhaps unduly influenced by the American intelligence agency. A senior PMO official added that the issue only became serious when the CIA's charges were reiterated by the Volcker panel, a U.N.-appointed body.

Asked about his reported statements earlier this week blaming Pakistan for the killing of the Border Roads Organisation driver M.R. Kutty in Afghanistan, Mr. Narayanan said the statement attributed to him was incorrect. "I was speaking half in English, half in Malayalam," he explained, suggesting that local journalists in Kerala had, therefore, misunderstood him. He reiterated that there was no evidence linking Pakistan to the murder by the Taliban, but added, "What I think may be different, but what I think does not matter."
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