Thursday, July 20, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Three Sena ministers quit Union Cabinet
Decision to prosecute Thackeray

From T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, July 19 — In a brazen attempt at arm-twisting of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government, the three Shiv Sena ministers in the Union Council of Ministers — Mr Manohar Joshi, Mr Suresh Prabhu and Mr Balasaheb Vikhe Patil — submitted their resignations to the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee here today.

In a coordinated move, Mr Joshi, Mr Prabhu and Mr Patil put in their papers in protest against the Maharashtra government’s decision to prosecute their leader, Mr Bal Thackeray, for allegedly stoking riots in 1993 following the carnage at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.

As expected, Mr Vajpayee rejected the resignations but the inimitable Shiv Sena leader has unleashed his gambit of political one-upmanship which is bound to cause worrisome moments for the BJP leadership.

The downcast Shiv Sena ministers claimed they had resigned because the Shiv Sena chief needed them back in Maharashtra. They called on Mr Vajpayee, and the Union Home Minister, Mr L.K. Advani, in the evening as part of the Shiv Sena’s pressure tactics that their support could not be taken for granted. Just for the sake of form they sought central intervention to prevent the prosecution of Mr Thackeray.

The timing of the resignations is indeed significant as the monsoon session of Parliament begins four days later on July 24. The Thackeray issue has the potential of whipping up a cacophony in the two Houses of Parliament just as the controversy whipped by the autonomy resolution adopted by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly has been brought under control at least for the time being.

Mr Joshi and Mr Prabhu are Cabinet Ministers overseeing the portfolios of Heavy Industries and Chemicals and Fertiliser respectively while Mr Patil is the Minister of State for Finance.

As Mr Thackeray has demanded the summary dismissal of the ruling Democratic Front or the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party coalition government in Maharashtra for ordering his prosecution, it is only natural that the three ministers in their capacity as lesser mortals in the Shiv Sena make an impact in espousing the cause of their leader.

It is not at anybody’s whims and fancy that a duly elected state government can be dismissed. The NDA has already burnt its fingers badly in invoking Article 356 and paid a heavy price in Bihar. Therefore, it is well nigh impossible in agreeing to Mr Thackeray’s demand solely because the Shiv Sena leader finds himself caught on a sticky wicket.

The ruling Democratic Front’s move in Maharashtra to target Mr Thackeray is in keeping with a carefully thought out political strategy. The wily NCP strongman in Maharashtra, Mr Sharad Pawar, and his colleagues have singled out Mr Thackeray for special treatment essentially to create dissension in the ranks of the BJP and the Shiv Sena.

The Democratic Front in Mumbai is on a high. It maintains no effort will be spared in maintaining law and order in the crucial western state despite threats that the country will be in flames if Mr Thackeray is arrested. They believe that if the Shiv Sainiks go on the rampage, the Shiv Sena’s image is bound to take another severe beating.

This, according to the Democratic Front leaders is evidenced by the disquiet expressed by the people at large to the stray incidents to whip up tension in Mumbai and some other parts of Maharashtra. Mumbaikars and the people at large are highly averse to disturbances and life being thrown out of gear for political mileage.

Though the Democratic Front government’s order to proceed against Mr Thackeray is yet to reach the police authorities in Mumbai, elections for 11 state Legislative Council seats are scheduled to be held next Monday. The Legislative Council elections are perceived as a test for the Democratic Front in Maharashtra and has the makings of a keenly contested one.

UNI adds: Mr Vajpayee summoned Law Minister Ram Jethmalani and directed him to study the demands made by the Shiv Sena after the three ministers met him.

Leader of the Shiv Sena parliamentary party Anant Geete said sena mps would not attend Parliament session beginning on July 24 until a decision was taken on the arrest of their leader Bal Thackeray and sought the Centre’s immediate intervention in the matter.

Mr Anant Geete said the three Shiv Sena ministers of the NDA Government would not withdraw their resignations even as the Prime Minister had refused to accept the resignations. “A decision (on withdrawing the resignations) will be taken only after meeting Mr Balasaheb Thackeray,’’ he said.

Mr Geete was among the 15 MPs who met Home Minister L.K. Advani at his office this evening demanding the Centre’s immediate intervention in the matter.

Emerging after the 30-minute meeting with the Home Minister, Mr Manohar Joshi said the Home Minister had assured them that the Centre would do whatever was possible to avert the situation from worsening.

He said the Centre had taken the matter very seriously and would consult Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ram Jethmalani.

“We had to apprise the Home Minister of the real situation. Our purpose is solved,” he added.

When asked whether they would continue to support the government, Mr Joshi said that was entirely a different matter which had nothing to do with the present situation. “Of course the support will continue,” he added.


Sena, BJP to move court

MUMBAI, July 19 (PTI) — The Shiv Sena-BJP opposition will move the court against the Maharashtra Government for okaying the prosecution of Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, BJP group leader Gopinath Munde said today.

“By giving the green signal to prosecution of Mr Thackeray under section 153(A) of the IPC, the government has defied the Mumbai High Court’s 1993 verdict, rejecting a public interest litigation seeking action against the Sena chief,” Mr Munde told the State Assembly while participating in a two-and-half-hour-long discussion on the law and order scenario in Maharashtra.

Shiv Sena leaders along with their BJP counterparts, held an emergency meeting on tonight and reiterated their stand to fight tooth and nail, if the state government gives the green signal to arrest Mr Bal Thackeray.

According to sources, all opposition MLAs belonging to the Sena in the State Assembly were present at the meeting which decided to “face the state government’s act head-on”, if attempts are made to arrest Shiv Sena supremo.

Meanwhile the police tonight asserted they had “no immediate plans” to arrest Mr Bal Thackeray.

City Police Commissioner M. N. Singh in a broadcast message said “we have no immediate plans to arrest Balasaheb” and asked the people not to lend credence to rumours of Thackeray’s arrest that did the round throughout the day today triggering high tension.

Meanwhile, 20 platoons of the Rapid Action Force and the State Reserve Police Force have been requisitioned as a precautionary measure.

Security has also been beefed up at all sensitive points in the city in the wake of Sena workers’ threat to take to the streets if Mr Thackeray was arrested.

Earlier, a high-level delegation of Shiv Sena-BJP legislators met Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to seek clarification on rumours that Sena supremo Bal Thackeray would be arrested and on the scaling down of security to Sena office-bearers since last night.

‘‘It will be a collective decision and the government will take into consideration the prevailing situation before taking any action’’, the Chief Minister told the delegation, the BJP group leader in the Assembly, Mr Gopinath Munde told reporters at the Vidhan Bhavan.


It’s blackmail, says Congress
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, July 19 — The resignation of Shiv Sena ministers from the Union Cabinet was termed as an attempt to “blackmail” the Vajpayee Government to dismiss the Deshmukh Government in Maharashtra, the Congress said today.

“The resignations of Shiv Sena ministers from the Union Cabinet is a blatant attempt to blackmail the Central Government to dismiss the Government in Maharashtra, which has sanctioned prosecution of the Shiv Sena chief, Mr Bal Thackeray, party spokesman Mr Anil Shastri told newsmen here.

Mr Shastri said the resignation also reflected the “fragility” of the Central Government and the “inherent contradictions” among the NDA constituents.

Stating that the Congress-NCP Government in Maharashtra would not be ‘cowed down’ by the threats wielded out by the Shiv Sena, he said.

The Congress also demanded phasing out of the whole fleet of ageing Alliance Air aircraft and bringing down the age level of all aircraft to 15 years, as per international standards and in the interest of air safety.

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