Wednesday, March 21, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Vajpayee biding for time
Wants to retain Brajesh Mishra, NK Singh
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 20
Despite an element of unease among the hawks in the BJP and certain partners of the NDA government, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has stuck to his prerogative of retaining the services of his Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and superannuated officer on special duty in the PMO N. K. Singh.

“There is nothing to suggest in the so called expose that these two senior officers have used their clout of being in the all-powerful Prime Minister’s Office to swing or influence decisions,” sources claimed.

The sources also add that “Both Mr Mishra and Mr N.K. Singh are very much there as of now and one cannot offer any comment about what happens in the future.”

It is apparent the country’s Chief Executive wants to bide for time especially when the Opposition has trained its guns against him rather than facing the ignominy of seeing the back of Mr Mishra or Mr N.K. Singh. Such a course of action is bound to send wrong signals.

The allegations of shady defence deals have already taken their toll in the inescapable exit of Samata Party leader George Fernandes as the Union Defence Minister. The Opposition is out to gain mileage by focussing attention on Mr Vajpayee and those close to him including Mr Mishra and his foster son-in-law.

Heading a conglomeration of more than one score disparate parties and groups in Parliament, Mr Vajpayee has necessarily to be seen as holding his own ground in the wake of the sustained onslaught to tarnish his image. This assumes importance as Assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala and Pondicherry are to be held next month.

It was during the late Indira Gandhi’s stewardship of the country that the imposing South Block had been quietly turned into the Prime Minister’s secretariat. It had become the unquestioned fountainhead of power. All ministries and departments invariably sought the nod or awaited a brief from the Prime Minister’s secretariat before taking major decisions.

This was sought to be changed during the Janata Party rule with the late Morarji Desai at the helm of affairs. Desai pruned the all-encompassing Prime Minister’s secretariat and restored the PMO system. But that in no way had undermined the PMO’s primacy in intervening and holding sway in taking crucial decisions.

It was in this context that seasoned PM watchers insisted that the press conference held by Mr Mishra and Mr N.K. Singh of the PMO last evening as “unparalleled and precedent setting.”

Most Opposition parties, including the Congress and CPM took strong exception to the press conference by the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary and other officers of the PMO. Commenting on the press conference, the CPM observed, “There is the Union Cabinet and ministers who should answer on matters discussed in the press note issued by the PMO. It is they who are accountable to the people and Parliament.”


Trinamool furious over PMO’s letter

New Delhi, March 20
A showdown today appeared to be in the offing between the BJP and the Trinamool Congress which took strong exception to a letter reportedly written by PMO official prompting BJP to mount a fire-fighting mission by rushing a senior leader to Kolkata and disclaiming that the letter was written by the PMO official.

The Trinamool Congress, which quit the NDA last week, termed as “uncivilised” the letter reportedly written by the PMO official Sudheendra Kulkarni asking the party to let know within 24 hours if it would support the Vajpayee government from outside.

Angry over the letter, Trinamool Chief Whip in the Lok Sabha Sudip Bandopadhyay told reporters in Kolkata that “if need arises, we may even oppose the Vajpayee government in Parliament.”

“We have taken strong exception to yesterday’s fax from Sudhindra Kulkarni of the PMO seeking our assurance within 24 hours of giving outside support to the NDA.

Within hours of the Trinamool’s threat to oppose the Vajpayee government in Parliament, the BJP decided to rush its Vice-President Kailashpati Mishra to Kolkata tomorrow in an apparent mission to save the electoral alliance between the two parties in West Bengal.

Mishra said in a statement here that the BJP would be ready to ally with the Trinamool if it announced its readiness to support the Vajpayee government from outside. The BJP was awaiting a response from Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee.

Mishra said the letter written to the Trinamool Congress in this regard was sent by him and not by Sudhindra Kulkarni in the PMO as claimed by Sudip Bandopahyay. “The PMO has nothing to do with our party’s communication with Mamata Banerjee,” he said.

Mishra said the BJP had sent a proposal to Mamata Banerjee that it would be ready to firm up alliance with her party if it declared support to the Vajpayee government from outside.

He said complications in the BJP-Trinamool alliance had arisen following the latter’s withdrawal from the NDA but “we are still hopeful that the two parties can contest the elections together with the common objective of defeating the Left Front.” PTI



Thackeray seeks Mishra’s ouster

Mumbai, March 20
Joining the Opposition attack on the Prime Minister’s Office in the wake of the Tehelka expose, Shiv Sena, chief Bal Thackeray today demanded the immediate removal of Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and Officer on Special Duty N.K. Singh from the PMO till the judicial inquiry into the scandal is completed.

“If there are suspicions about National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, Officer on Special Duty in the PMO, N.K. Singh and PM’s foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya, then they must be removed immediately” the Sena supremo said in an editorial in his party’s mouthpiece Saamna.

“What is Mr Mishra’s role as the chief of the National Security Council,” the Sena chief questioned, stating that his functioning had come under attack right from the beginning.

“Strictures have been passed against him (Mr Mishra) in the Kargil episode while the NSA was not available to take a decision to finalise the strategy when the Indian airlines aircraft was hijacked from Nepal”, Mr Thackeray alleged.

Similarly, Mr N.K. Singh has also received flak for his functioning, the editorial noted, questioning why such persons were needed in the PMO.

Both Mr Mishra and Mr Singh yesterday publicly denied allegations made in the Tehelka tapes against them. PTI

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