Days after agreeing to replace Pranab Mukherjee as head of the empowered group of ministers (EGoM) on telecom, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar recused himself.
In a missive to PM Manmohan Singh on Monday, Pawar said he feared attempts to drag him into the 2G scam. The first meeting of the reconstituted EGoM, scheduled for Monday, was postponed to Wednesday.
The post-Pawar EGoM may be delayed further, as it will take a week for the new chairman to come up to speed with the 2G spectrum minutiae. “This is a cause for concern as it could mean a delay in the auctions scheduled to be completed by August 31, according to the SC directive,” a telecom industry source said. l
The EGoM’s main task on Monday was to decide on pricing and auction of telecom spectrum.
In a letter to Singh, however, Pawar wrote: “Attempts have been made in the past to unnecessarily drag me in the controversy on 2G spectrum... At this juncture, I believe that my association in (the) decision-making process as the chairman of EGoM on telecom will motivate vested elements to try to drag me in the controversy.”
Pawar was referring to the time when allegations were made that he was somehow linked to Swan Telecom, promoted by the DB Group, which in 2008 bagged some of the 2G spectrum allocated by disgraced former telecom minister A Raja.
Pawar had denied the charge strongly then. Although the fact that he had agreed last week to head the EGoM would appear unseemly, his decision to leave now is consistent with his stance.
The decision to quit came close on the heels of his announcement earlier on Monday about the postponement of the EGoM meeting. Pawar told reporters: “The meeting has been postponed because I have got some other work.”
The swift development is likely to hasten Singh into finding a quick replacement for Pawar. Observers said commerce minister Anand Sharma is the most likely choice, given home minister Chidambaram’s preoccupation with national security matters.