Thursday, March 15, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

NDA unfazed by threat
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 14
Dared by the Trinamool Congress to axe Union Defence Minister George Fernandes or be prepared for a parting of ways, embattled Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee decided to fight the Opposition onslaught by closing ranks with the other partners of the National Democratic Alliance government.

The BJP-led NDA conglomerate has suffered a grievous loss of face on the eve of next month’s assembly elections in four states and a union territory, but Mr Vajpayee has decided to battle it out.

There is a strong section of opinion in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) which believes that’s expose lacks hard evidence to nail any minister, including Mr Fernandes.

“The videos and other issues connected with allegations of shady defence deals hang on an extremely thin thread which cannot be the basis for sending ministers packing in a system of collective responsibility,” highly placed sources in the PMO said even though opinion appears to be sharply divided. Though these sources lacked conviction, it would be naive on anybody’s part to assume that that Prime Minister is going to throw in the towel.

Yet others feel that “it is inevitable that some more heads will have to roll, though the timing of this is of essence and might not occur with rapid fire urgency.” Clearly, the central leadership does not want to give the impression that it has caved in due to intense pressure from the Opposition parties. In this context, they drew pointed attention to the prompt and inevitable exit of Dalit leader Bangaru Laxman as the president of the BJP.

The BJP-led NDA is biding for time for things to settle down, hoping that it will facilitate a discussion on this subject in Parliament. That, in the opinion of the PMO, will set the stage for an inquiry. This was evidenced in Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan’s observation after the two Houses of Parliament adjourned for the day that “the government will accept the general consensus.” He affirmed that the Vajpayee government was ready for a discussion under any Rule — 193, 184 or a calling attention motion.

Caught in a no-go situation in West Bengal with assembly elections in the state round the corner, Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee reeled off a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister and abstained from attending the NDA meeting here this afternoon.

She threatened that if the resignation of Mr Fernandes was not accepted speedily, she might be compelled to snap her ties with the NDA government.

She had stayed away from the meeting of the Union Cabinet specially convened last night to discuss the fallout of the dotcom company’s revelations.

It is no secret that if Ms Banerjee continues to ally herself with the BJP-led NDA in the wake of the fresh scandal at the Centre, the prospects of her Trinamool Congress will suffer another blow in West Bengal.

She is already facing a virtual revolt in the Trinamool Congress for accommodating the Congress and having made electoral adjustments with the BJP.

The BJP is not unduly perturbed at this juncture if the Trinamool Congress decides to go on its own with the Congress in West Bengal. They are convinced that Ms Banerjee has her own electoral compulsions, caught as she is between the devil and deep sea.

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