Public explanation, unusual experience for troubleshooter Pranab. Opposition won't relent

The United Progressive Alliance government appeared to have buried the controversy over the Finance Ministry's office memorandum on the 2G spectrum allocation issue with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's public explanation on it on Thursday. But it has left the protagonists — Mr. Mukherjee and Home Minister P.Chidambaram — bruised and angry. And there is no prospect of the Opposition letting up on its frontal onslaught on the government.

For Mr. Mukherjee, usually the government's chief troubleshooter, it has been an unusual experience being in trouble himself. Informed party sources say he has been forced into a situation where he had to give a public explanation for something he says he is not responsible for. The cryptic line in the statement, “Apart from the factual background, the paper contains certain inferences and interpretations which do not reflect my views,” could only mean one thing, say the sources — that a careless or malicious bureaucrat added the lines that sought to pin the blame for the 2G mess on Mr. Chidambaram.

Mr. Mukherjee's sympathisers — and he has many in both the party and the government — feel that the public explanation should have been left to the Group of Ministers on media management: someone as senior as Mr. Mukherjee himself should not have been put in the dock, they say.

On his part, Mr. Chidambaram is sore, say the party sources, because he says that all he is guilty of is that his view on a policy matter did not prevail in the Cabinet. On the other hand, the Department of Telecom had — as the office memorandum itself says — pointed out that if the licence route was abandoned for the auction route, the government would have to face a great deal of litigation. The party sources say Mr. Chidambaram prevailed on the party leadership to ensure that it was Mr. Mukherjee who gave a public explanation of the office memorandum, with the latter distancing himself from the “inferences and interpretations.”

Mr. Chidambaram, these sources say, has long enjoyed Congress president Sonia Gandhi's confidence — he continues to be a member of the executive committee of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation.

Continuation of NDA policy

Mr. Mukherjee's statement also emphasises that the UPA government's policy on 2G was a continuation of the NDA's policy: “The policy of the government in 2007-2008 was continuation of the policy adopted in October 2003 and as reiterated by the TRAI,” it says.

This is clearly a pointer to the line the government will adopt in the days to come, government sources said, as it would have to defend its 2G policy vigorously. A distinction had to be made between the policy and the way in which it was implemented by former Telecom Minister A. Raja, the sources said. The time for being apologetic was over, they added, pointing to news reports — based on fresh RTI revelations — that the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report on the losses incurred because of the government's policy on 2G was highly exaggerated.

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