Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister P Chidambaram's much-awaited statement before the media on the 11-page note of finance ministry on the 2G scam that indicts Chidambaram is a loss of face for Mukherjee, but it may prove a deceptive victory for Chidambaram at a later stage.
However, the government survives and both the ministers, too, to fight their battle another day.
The tension was in the backdrop of the reported growing rift between Mukherjee and Chidambaram. In order to save the government from further embarrassment, the truce was ordered.
Since the controversy erupted after the publication of the note, Chidambaram wanted a 'clean chit' from Mukherjee, but he has merely disowned the statement.
Mukherjee was commenting on the recently revealed note dated March 25, 2011, written by the finance ministry to Prime Minister's Office on the 2G scam that gives a chronology of what happened between various wings of the government on the issue of allotment of 2G spectrum.
'Pranab had no option but to give Chidambaram safe passage'
He said that the inferences on Chidambaram in the 2G note were not his opinion. "Apart from the factual background the paper contains, certain inferences and interpretations that do not reflect my views," Mukherjee told mediapersons on Thursday evening even as Chidambaram was trying hard not to look smug.
Pranab seems to have agreed to save Chidambaram because the issue had turned serious in view of its legal implications for the home minister and also on subject of collective responsibility of Cabinet that was and is on a weak wicket.
In fact, a senior Congress minister said that Mukherjee had no option but to give Chidambaram safe passage.
Mukherjee has tried to neutralise the political fall-out in the Cabinet.
Then who indicted Chidambaram? And why?
However, the most important question still remains unanswered: If Mukherjee or his department has not 'indicted' Chidambaram in that note, then who did it, and why?
Another serious issue for Chidambaram to consider is that Mukherjee has given two bit more legitimacy to the note by saying that it was an inter-ministerial paper in which the cabinet secretariat has contributed substantially by adding some 35 paragraphs.
No doubt Pranab babu has been coerced by the party and the government to give Chidambaram -- who had made this note and his indictment a matter of prestige -- a favour.
Mukherjee was, reportedly, forced to say so because the matter was played out in public, the Opposition parties were laughing at the government.
Anything said or done on the 2G issue has serious legal implications with lower court about to frame charges and the Supreme Court about to give it's verdict on whether the scam should be still monitored by the Special Investigation Team.
Certainly, the issue is not closed
As such, the note is still not thrown into the dustbin. The issue is not closed.
Chidambaram will be pushed into the defensive when the apex court opens Subramanian Swamy's petition and many other documents after the Dusshera vacation.
The court will be getting former finance secretary Subba Rao's statement before the Central Bureau of Investigation on Friday.
On Thursday, CBI gave shabbily prepared copies. The mistake will be corrected on Friday.
The body language of Mukherjee and Chidambaram was telling that both have been actually wounded with the latter saving his day. Just a day.
Certainly, the matter is not closed. May be the current political impasse has receded into the background with the media giving them a little breather.