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PM in damage control mode but Ashwani's goose is cooked

By Renu Mittal
Last updated on: May 03, 2013 11:19 IST

With the prime minister  wanting to send the message that he has not been part of any cover-up in the coal scam, Ashwani Kumar's case is looking more and more dismal, reports Renu Mittal

The controversy surrounding the Central Bureau of Investigation's inquiry into the coal scam has become deeply entangled, with the main players in the enfolding drama washing their hands of the matter.

A jittery prime minister -- who along with the Prime Minister's office has been keeping an eagle eye on the unfolding crisis -- has sought to wash his hands of the whole messy affair by distancing himself from Law Minister Ashwani Kumar’s meeting with CBI director Ranjit Sinha.

According to an interview given by Solicitor General Mohun Parasaran to a television news channel, when Attorney General G E Vahanvati and Parasaran met the prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh said he was not aware of the controversial meeting as he does not keep a day-to-day account of all meetings that take place.

Dr Singh, the solicitor general added, also said, “We cannot interfere in matters of investigation.”

The law minister claims he did not call the meeting with the CBI director; that it was in fact called by the attorney general. But this is squarely denied by the attorney general.

Kumar, who is a lawyer himself, is trying various legal tricks to defend himself. But, so far, not a soul in the Congress is buying his story.

According to the latest statements by all the dramatis personae involved in the coal scam, former Additional Solicitor General Harin Rawal said Attorney General Vahanvati tried to influence CBI director Ranjit Sinha.

Vahanvati is denying what both the ASG and the law minister are saying.

Kumar's version of the truth is very different from the picture that has emerged so far. The aam aadmi can only hope that the Supreme Court will see through the games being played by the politicians, CBI officers and law officers to save their own skin.

Parasaran is asking why the CBI director was called. He is openly saying he does not approve of attempts by the law minister to influence the CBI report.

The issue is becoming murkier, say senior party leaders, with Kumar continuing to reiterate he has done nothing wrong and does not need to resign.

The party is now waiting for the Supreme Court's utterance on May 8. Privately, though, most Congressmen say the current activity is nothing but a face-saver as Ashwani Kumar has made the situation impossible for the party and the government.

At a meeting of Congress spokespersons and some ministers, Kumar was deeply upset that there was no attempt by the party to defend him. He was told in not-so-polite terms that he should have come out in his own defence. He was also told that most people were not aware of the facts of the case as they had not been shared by anyone.

Kumar said he was not speaking till the CBI gave its affidavit to the court next week, else it would look like he was influencing the CBI. When the Congress leaders said he should come out with his own facts, he said he would do so if the leadership asked him to.            

Most of the leaders were unimpressed by his line of defence and made it clear that Indian politics runs on perception. Kumar said he had become collateral damage in this case.

The fact that the prime minister is denying any knowledge of the meeting, said a senior leader, is a clear indicator that Dr Singh and his band of advisors do not want the coal scam to burn the PMO, though they have already been singed in the matter.

The prime minister, say senior leaders,  wants to send the message that he has not been part of any cover-up.

Ashwani Kumar's case is looking more and more dismal.

With four versions of the truth in the public domain, it is now clear that a lot of lies are in circulation. Kumar continues to tell his Congress colleagues that he neither fiddled with the CBI report nor did he call a meeting.

And, with the prime minister’s signatures on most of the allotment papers and senior officials in the PMO taking a keen interest in what is going on, the heat has already reached the PMO.

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Renu Mittal in New Delhi