Verdict-Out Natwar

Wilting under mounting pressure, Union Minister ‘Without Portfolio’ K Natwar Singh, named by Volcker committee as a beneficiary of illegal payoffs in the Iraqi oil scam, has finally resigned from the Union Cabinet. 

That he was divested of the External Affairs Ministerial portfolio early on in the wake of the controversy should have been enough a reason for him to quit. Now that he has decided to quit, Natwar has only done damage to himself and the party that he represents. Any Minister ought to be morally conscious of the fact that when the Prime Minister takes the extreme step of divesting one’s very ministerial position it has a significant meaning. That was enough a clue for Natwar to act upon. But when he finally did, it only created much confusion even within the ranks of the government and further denting the authority of the Prime Minister who was almost unseen (in faraway Moscow). 

As mentioned earlier twice in these columns Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress party ought to have saved the trouble of making an endless script on the entire episode and should have dropped the already stripped Natwar from the cabinet as his continuance had become completely untenable after the institution of two inquiries—one a judicial probe to be headed by former Chief Justice Raghunandan Swarup Pathak and the other a fact-finding probe by former diplomat Virendra Dayal. When the controversy first struck it was also the stated position of this column that the Prime Minister drop Natwar from the Cabinet till as such time his innocence was proven.

While there have been endless twists and turns since Volcker first arrived on the Indian political scene, the disclosure to India Today magazine by Congress insider and envoy Aneil Mathrani about Natwar’s visit to Iraq in 2001 when the oil deals were purportedly struck, may have in all probability clinched the verdict against Natwar. Further, the return of Special Envoy Virender Dayal and the contents of the documents he procured from the UN Independent Inquiry Committee led by Paul Volcker may also do more harm than good for the now beleaguered Natwar. 

Smart as Natwar may look and act the part, even in his exit, the senior Congressman has shown complete disregard for his party. As hard as he may try, no one can be fooled into believing that Natwar was quitting to save Parliament from its pandemonium, as he explained while announcing his resignation. For the weighed down Natwar this was the only face saving formulae he may have finally invented in order to wiggle himself out of his own bedlam. But at the end if one is to put into proper perspective the reason given by Natwar for resigning, does it mean that he was resigning because L.K Advani and the BJP party told him to do so and not because he was first divested of his portfolio; then removed from the Congress Steering Committee and given enough hints both by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi to quit. The reason Natwar gave for his resignation should therefore be seen as a direct affront on his party. The Congress Party should seriously consider the advisability of seeking a clarification from Natwar on this score.