Thursday, March 22, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Govt dares Sonia for debate
Congress rejects offer
TNS and agencies

New Delhi, March 21
A day after Sonia Gandhi sought an exclusive slot on Doordarshan for the Congress to speak on Tehelka expose, the government challenged her to a one-to-one debate saying Prasar Bharati had agreed to allocate a suitable time slot for it.

The offer was made by Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj but Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy promptly rejected it terming it as a “tactic to divert attention from government prompted misdemeanour” to allow Mr George Fernandes to address the nation when he was about to resign as Defence Minister in the wake of the expose.

“Prasar Bharati has been telecasting panel discussions on the subject in which representatives of political parties, including the Congress party, have been participating. In case you wish to participate personally in such a discussion, the government would also be happy to nominate a person of an appropriate stature,” Mrs Swaraj told reporters.

Reacting to the offer, Mr Reddy said Mrs Gandhi had never offered to participate in the TV discussion and in the letter to the Prime Minister had pointed out the “singular inappropriateness” of the “unprecedented act” of allowing Mr Fernandes, “who is under a cloud” to address the nation.

Mr Reddy said the government had been harping on inquiry in the expose of alleged corruption in defence deals to avoid taking action in the matter.

Responding to reported statement of former Defence Minister George Fernandes about his addressing the nation on Prasar Bharati which is an autonomous institution, Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said there was no such precedent in the country. “It is not only unprecedented but unhealthy also,” Mr Reddy said.

Asked why the Congress President had written letter to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on the address of Mr Fernandes and not to Prasar Bharati, Mr Reddy said Prasar Bharati was autonomous only in name. The vacancy of CEO had not been filled for the past two years and the government had been making ad hoc appointments, he said.

“Prasar Bharati is being run by an illegally appointed officer,” Mr Reddy charged, adding that except Doordarshan all channels had shown the video tapes released by

To a question about the BJP offering to debate the tapes expose with the Congress on the television as Parliament was not being allowed to function, Mr Reddy said the Congress did not want “argument of debate to be used as a tactical ploy to deviate attention of people. What is needed is not debate but action,” he said.

He said the Congress President had sought time on Doordarshan for the party because such a favour had been extended to a minister tendering his resignation. “The party wants to convey its viewpoint on the issue,” Mr Reddy said.

Praising the Army for prompt action in the wake of the expose, Mr Reddy asked why no action was being taken against politicians, bureaucrats and dealers. “We want prosecution under criminal law,” Mr Reddy said.

The party said that cognisable offences need to be taken note of by the CBI and other authorities concerned. While demanding the exit of government, he said that criminal action should be simultaneously initiated against those exposed by the tapes.

Meanwhile, the CPM on Wednesday charged Prasar Bharati with censoring the Tehelka expose by not telecasting it on Doordarshan alleging it was part of a cover-up operation by the government and sought immediate telecast of the programme on the national channel.

While other television channels were showing Tehelka tapes “Doordarshan consciously chose to keep it under the carpet,” CPM MP Hannan Mollah told reporters here.

Stating that 65 per cent of television viewers in the country have access only to Doordarshan, he said in a letter to Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj “what right does DD have to deprive them of the explosive information”.

“Nobody will believe that the government has not pressurised DD to black out this matter. This is a crime against right to information and both the government and DD have committed this crime”, he said.

He also criticised the government for allowing George Fernandes over Doordarshan before he resigned as Defence Minister and also providing Prime Minister’s officials to express their view point on the Tehelka issue.Back

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