Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar’s efforts on Wednesday evening to rally government and party spokespersons at a meeting specially convened for the purpose did not evoke the sympathy he had hoped for. Indeed, he found himself grilled by them, with most suggesting that had he made an explanatory statement on the floor of the House, instead of expecting party colleagues to defend him, the session could not have been such a washout. A senior minister even told him that the government’s legislative agenda — topped by the food security Bill and land acquisition Bill — had been totally derailed, and he should have made a statement to set the record straight.
To this, Mr. Kumar apparently said the matter was sub judice, to which another minister riposted that he could have cited parliamentary privilege and made the statement. Annoyed at this, Mr. Kumar told his party colleagues he would do so only if he was asked by the high command, a remark that further angered all those gathered.
If Mr. Kumar, whose fate still hangs in the balance with the Opposition asking for his resignation, wants party colleagues to defend him more vocally, an interview given by Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran on Thursday to Times Now sought to distance Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from coalgate: Mr. Parasaran told Times Now that the Prime Minister “was not even aware of the meetings,” that he made a clear distinction and stressed “We cannot interfere in matters of investigation.” The PM, the Solicitor-General said, had told him in a lighter vein that thanks to the media hype, people were even being made to believe that he (the PM) was involved in the matter.
CBI Director Ranjit Sinha too simultaneously sought to distance himself from the imbroglio. In an interview to Mail Today, he said, “I believe the outcome of this case may set new standards for the independence for the CBI … If in reality the CBI has to be independent, it requires functional independence and structural changes.” He stressed that he went to meet the Law Minister as they have “day-to-day dealings.” Asked whether the Minister made any changes to the coalgate draft report, he said he would disclose that to the Supreme Court on May 6.
On Wednesday, Mr. Kumar told party colleagues that he had done nothing wrong by meeting the CBI Director on the coalgate affidavit issue, as he believed that they shared a “client-lawyer” relationship. He added that BJP leader Arun Jaitley also met the CBI Director when he was Law Minister. He told them that in this case he did not represent the “political executive” as the agency came under MoS for Personnel V. Narayanasamy.
Mr. Kumar also sought to shift the blame for the presence of the CBI Director, at the meeting in his room, on Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati: he said that while he had asked the AG to arrange a meeting along with Additional Solicitor-General Harin P Raval to sort out the differences between the two men, it was Mr. Vahanvati who had brought the CBI Director along.
Wednesday’s meeting, called by Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi, was attended by Union Ministers Pawan Bansal, Jairam Ramesh, Jayanthi Natarajan, Manish Tewari and Rajiv Shukla and party spokespersons Sandeep Dikshit, P.C. Chacko, Renuka Chowdhury, Rashid Alvi and Girija Vyas.
Meanwhile, at the official briefing on Thursday, Mr. Dikshit was circumspect. Asked whether the party thought Mr. Kumar had done no wrong, the spokesperson said the Minister consistently maintained that he had done no wrong: the issue was before the court and on Monday the CBI would file its affidavit and let the court decide whether what he had done was right or wrong. “We stand by him till it is proved otherwise,” Mr. Dikshit said, adding, “We have no reason not to believe what he is saying. The issue of blame comes when there is wrongdoing and that is for the Supreme Court to decide. Right now, it is all speculation whether the meeting was called with an ulterior motive and changes were made.”