Congress defends Manmohan Singh; Arun Jaitley says cannot doubt his integrity

New Delhi,Iftikhar Gilani: Unlike in the case of former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, who was left to defend himself court cases against him, the Congress came out in full force to defend its another former prime minister Manmohan Singh, embroiled in the coal scam. Soon after a Delhi court summoned him, the party on Wednesday declared to stand firmly behind him, both politically and legally. The party also released documents stating how the BJP governments in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and other opposition ruled states Odisha and West Bengal had opposed his move to introduce auctioning of coal mines.

A top party source said Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who was unwell, summoned the party’s top legal luminaries and told them to fight this battle with full force. While many senior Congress leaders contested the basis on which the court has dragged the former PM for trial, the party held a press conference to defend his decisions. The Congress has decided to provide legal assistance to Dr Manmohan Singh and the party’s top lawyers have been asked to discuss the responses with him. There is a possibility the high court will be moved for quashing of the summons, though no decision has been taken as yet.

The party had stayed away, when Rao was embroiled in trials in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha bribery and Lakhubhai Pathak case. Though Rao was convicted, only to be acquitted by the high court, the party had dumped him to fend for himself and most of the Congress leaders who had close personal ties with him stopped visiting him during this crisis.

Dr Manmohan Singh, a man of few words, gave a mild response. “I respect the judicial process of this country. I hope in any fair trial, I will be able to establish my total innocence.” He added that “I have also as prime minister issued a statement justifying what we did. I am sure that the truth will prevail.” As prime minister, he had issued a statement defending the decision to allocate coal block to Birla’s Hindalco when the CBI moved against them in his own regime. Asked if he was upset, he said, “Of course. But this is part of life.” Dr Manmohan Singh attended the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

In Rajya Sabha, finance minister Arun Jaitley walked up to his seat along with several ministerial colleagues and said, “Dr saheb, we are shell-shocked. We are very upset… We can do anything but not suspect your moral integrity. The government doesn’t have any role in this.”

Congress party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, while giving details of the case, said the ex-PM had taken the decision to allot 15% of the Talabira-II coal block to Birla’s Hindalco on the recommendations of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik and the then coal secretary PC Parakh. He said Patnaik had in a letter written to the then prime minister on August 17, 2005, argued that the Hindalco plant will create employment in his state. The allocation was done on 70-15-15 percentage basis to two public sector units Mahanadi Coalfields Limited and Neyveli Lignite Corporation along with the Hindalco.

Surjewala said between 1993 and 2011 Government of India allocated 206 blocks out of these 41 blocks were allocated by the NDA government. 165 coal blocks were allocated between 2004 and 2011 during the UPA tenure. For the first time in 2005 it was Dr Singh who initiated steps to change the policy of allocation through a Steering Committee by bringing in a process where each coal block he papered was advertised and then various stakeholders could apply. Also in July 2005, Singh envisaged changing the process from allocation by Steering Committee to an auction process.