Saturday, March 17, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

NDA leaders close ranks
Fernandes remains convener;
Brajesh Mishra to stay
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 16
Shaken leaders of the National Democratic Alliance today closed ranks to express solidarity with the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, retained Mr George Fernandes as its convener and recommended a probe into the Tehelka website disclosure on defence deals by a sitting Supreme Court Judge.

There were also suggestions at the meeting that the government should seek a vote of confidence in Parliament in the coming week. A decision would, however, be taken only in consultation with the Telugu Desam Party, which is lending support from outside.

The NDA leaders rejected demands from a section of the Samata Party that the Prime Minister should drop his Principal Secretary, Mr Brajesh Mishra, and a senior PMO official, Mr N.K.Singh. The demand, in fact, came in for criticism from a large section of the NDA constituents.

During the one-hour meeting, the alliance partners appealed to the three Samata Party ministers — Mr Nitish Kumar, Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr V.Sreenivasa Prasad — to withdraw their resignations, submitted to the Prime Minister last evening.

Briefing newspersons after the meeting, Mr Fernandes said the judicial probe would cover the entire gamut of the revelations made by the website and all that had transpired after the expose.

The three ministers of the Samata Party have been asked to resume their duty, he added.

The Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Pramod Mahajan, said the inquiry by a sitting Supreme Court Judge would be completed within five to six months and if Mr Fernandes’ name is cleared, he would be reinstated.

Mr Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa of the SAD (Badal) said the Prime Minister would request the Chief Justice of India, Dr A.S.Anand, to appoint a Judge to conduct the inquiry.

NDA sources said the demand of a section of the Samata Party for the resignation of key PMO officials was criticised at the meeting and alliance partners felt that the demand was uncalled for. Mr Fernandes clarified that the demand was not from the Samata Party and it was the individual views of its members.

The NDA, while reposing faith in the leadership of Mr Fernandes, described his exit as the Defence Minister as “unfortunate”.

Mr Fernandes said that the withdrawal of the Trinamool Congress from the NDA was not discussed at he meeting. He added that he had expected the Trinamool Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, to attend the NDA meeting the day before yesterday, but she did not show up.

He described the Trinamool Congress’s withdrawal as a “let-down”. “They contested the election on the NDA platform on a common agenda and the Prime Minister and NDA leaders had campaigned for her party in the election. To walk out at this stage without any rhyme or reason is nothing but a let-down’’, he added.

On the demand for the resignation of the government, Mr Fernandes said the government was formed on the basis of a mandate of the people and the mandate for the NDA was for five years. Why should the government resign, he asked.


Govt not to seek trust vote
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 16
The government today ruled out seeking a “vote of confidence” in Parliament next week, as suggested by a section of the NDA, even as it expressed confidence over the passage of the Finance Bill in the current Budget Session.


Mamata places govt in delicate position
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 16
The exit of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) conglomerate at the Centre has put the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in a delicate position even though it does not pose an immediate threat to the survival of the government.

Hemmed by the revolt within her organisation, the former Union Railway Minister had to distance herself from the BJP for her own political survival in West Bengal. It is obvious the Prime Minister has other problems to deal with like the attack against his Principal Secretary and National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra and Secretary (Economic Affairs) in the Prime Minister’s office N. K. Singh.

Mr Vajpayee has firmly ruled out sacking of any of these officials. The BJP leadership had never lost sight of Ms Banerjee remaining in the fold considering the fact that the Assembly elections in West Bengal was a do or die battle for her. Carrying the BJP piggy back on her shoulders was increasingly becoming an appendage waiting to be discarded at the opportune time. The expose came in handy for Ms Banerjee to go it along with the Congress minus the BJP.

Though this move has not put Ms Banerjee as the Chief Ministerial aspirant in the driver’s seat exactly, it has nevertheless given her elbow room to appease the Muslim population who constitute 24 per cent of the electorate in West Bengal.

Her continued association with the “communal BJP” would have meant that both the Bengali and Urdu speaking Muslim populace would have had to keep Ms Banerjee out of their calculations.

Though the time at hand is short to appease the minority community without whose support it is as good as throwing in the towel without a fight, Ms Banerjee now has a chance to appeal to the Muslims to vote for her alliance.

The Congress will now have no qualms or reservations in throwing their weight behind the Trinamool Congress thus creating a piquant situation for those who had already crossed sides. With being part of the BJP out of the way, Ms Banerjee is making a fresh bid to take on the challenge of the Left bastion in West Bengal.

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