The distance between the All India Congress Committee headquarters at 24, Akbar Road and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's residence in Motilal Nehru Road is barely a kilometre. Yet the steps taken by the top Congress leaders today in solidarity with Singh showed that the party is finally willing to walk the talk to back a Prime Minister who was isolated in and outside his party during his stint at the helm of the country.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who led a march to Singh's house early today, said the might of the party was behind the former prime minister who has been summoned as an accused in a coal scam case. On his part, a visibly moved Singh received the leaders on the front porch of his house and expressed his gratitude.
"The Congress party, Soniaji and all members of the working committee and senior leaders have come to my residence, expressed solidarity with me and that we will fight this case to the best of our ability," Singh said. Gandhi said Singh was a man of integrity and probity and that the party would fight the summons with all means at its disposal.
"Dr. Manmohan Singh ji is our former prime minister. He is known not only in our country but throughout the world as being a person of integrity and probity. We are here to offer our unstinted support and solidarity. The Congress party is fully behind him. We shall fight this legally and with all our means at our command and we are sure, convinced that he will be vindicated," she said.
She was accompanied by several senior Congress leaders, including former union minister P. Chidambaram. Chidambaram said the government should stand by the CBI's report, which has twice said that there is no ground to take criminal action against Singh in connection with the coal blocks allocation scam, if it believed in its independence.
"I am quite confident that the summons will be taken back. Politically, it is very difficult in view of the studied silence of the BJP. The CBI is investigating and has twice said that there is no charge and no ground to take criminal action," said Chidambaram.
"The government must speak up and say we stand by the CBI's report. If the government believes in the independence of the CBI, then why is the government reluctant to say that?" he asked.
A special court in Delhi summoned the former prime minister, former coal secretary P.C. Parakh, industrialist Kumar Manglam Birla and three others in the coal blocks allocation case earlier on Wednesday. The court summoned them for offences of criminal conspiracy, breach of trust and under provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act. They have all been asked to appear in court on the April 8.
Singh had yesterday said that he is open to legal scrutiny and truth will prevail in the matter. The case pertains to allocation of Talabira II coal block in Odisha to M/s Hindalco in 2005, when the then prime minister was holding the coal portfolio.
Support poured in from Singh from all across the party. Former Defence Minister A K Antony said Singh's honesty will be established by the nation's legal process.
"All legal force and whatever other means in our command, we will use it. We are absolutely sure that ultimately Manmohan Singh, a man known for his integrity throughout the world, will come out clean. His character and honesty will be established by the legal process. We are fully behind him," Antony said.
However, Singh came under attack from Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav who asked the Congress Party to reveal its stand in the coal scam case, adding that when an 'honest person' occupies the top post, then his duty includes safeguarding the nation's treasures.
"The court has intervened in this matter. What is the angle of the Congress party, that they will tell? I believe that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. But one thing is for sure that scams have taken place and the coal blocks were allotted when he was the coal minister," Yadav said.
"There is no doubt that the image of Dr. Manmohan Singh is that of an honest man, but when that honest man becomes the prime minister, then his duty includes safeguarding the nation's treasures," he added.
Interestingly, the BJP, otherwise a bitter opponent of the Congress, has not launched a direct salvo at Singh himself.
BJP and other rivals of Congress said that Singh is paying for his "party's sins" and there should be no political intervention in the issue.
Eminent lawyer Prashant Bhushan termed the summoning of Singh by a special court as a "very good sign that goes on to show that the judicial system can function". The BJD maintained that nobody is above law saying extreme care has to be taken when allegations are made against someone like a former Prime Minister to ensure the issue is not politicised.
"It is a Congress scam because letters (seeking allocation for certain players) would come from somewhere else in the government. Jayanthi Natarajan (Environment Minister during Singh's regime) has already said how the letters would come to recommend or block projects. Even in court, it is well-known fact that there was extra mis-influence used and therefore, the CBI enquiry," said Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar.
"And today, because of this Congress sin or Congress scam now, Manmohanji, an economist Prime Minister, has to face CBI charges. This is yet another blot on Congress and now all other parties siding with Congress and opposing transparent auction will reconsider their stand I am sure," he said.
(With inputs from agencies)