Monday, October 2, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Mamata rejects George’s plea
From Subrangshu Gupta

CALCUTTA, Oct 1 — The Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, who is the convener of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has failed to persuade the Railway Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee and the Union Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr Ajit Panja, both from Trinamool Congress to withdraw their resignations.

Mr Fernandes had flown down to Calcutta last night as an emissary of the Prime Minister to persuade these two ministers to withdraw their decision but neither of them agreed to withdraw their resignation.

The disappointed Defence Minister returned back to Delhi in the morning after meeting the Trinamool, Congress supremo and Mr Panja more than once. He, however, succeeded in persuading Ms Banerjee and Mr Panja to come to the capital immediately to have further talks with Mr Vajpayee in this connection.

Both Ms Banerjee and Mr Panja had resigned yesterday to protest against the sudden hike in prices of petrol, diesel and LPG without consulting them.” They had sent in their resignation letter to the Prime Minister, giving him three days’ time to change the decision of price rise of these commodities. They also threatened to quit the NDA.

The Prime Minister, however, refused to accept the resignations. Instead, he sent Mr Fernandes to Calcutta to personally talk to Ms Banerjee and persuade her to change the decision. Mr Vajpayee also spoke to her over phone and requested her to come to Delhi for discussion.

Before leaving for Delhi, Mr Fernandes said still he was hopeful that Ms Mamata Banerjee would remain in the Cabinet along with Mr Panja. He admitted that the increase in the prices of petrol, diesel and LPG would badly hit the people but added that there was no other option before the government. He said he himself would be happy if this hike could be minimised to a certain level.

Meanwhile, all Trinamool leaders were busy at the funeral of Sisir Kumar Bose, the Netaji’s nephew through the morning. He had died yesterday afternoon at his south Calcutta residence following a sudden heart attack.

Last night, the Defence Minister went to Sisir Kumar Bose’s house to meet Ms Mamata Banerjee who was there by the side of Mrs Bose along with Mr Panja and other MPs till late night.

Later, Mr Fernandes held talks with Ms Banerjee and Mr Panja at the Railway Minister’s residence with the request to withdraw their resignation letter, which both the ministers declined.

Ms Banerjee reiterated that she was never after any ministerial post. But since she had accepted to offer to join the ministry, she could not join hands with others in allowing the people to suffer by this enormous price hike. She said she would better leave the ministry than sit as silent spectator to these anti-people actions.

Though Mr Fernandes expressed hope of a solution of the crisis, Ms Mamata Banerjee, however, showed no inclination to change her stance.

Mr Panja said it was now for the Prime Minister to take the decision. They had done what they thought would be the right to do.

Both Ms Banerjee and Mr Panja said they did not intend to fly to Delhi within the next few days. They said they were now busy in the organising relief and rescue works of the flood-affected people in the districts.

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