Tuesday, March 4, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Sonia’s charge regrettable: Vajpayee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 3
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today told the Lok Sabha that the government would seek a middle path on the Iraq issue and would make arrangements to bring back 40 lakh of its nationals from the Gulf region in case of a war.

“Those Indians who are there will not be left in the lurch and arrangements will be made to bring them back,” he said while replying to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address.

The Prime Minister made the remarks in response to queries from Congress chief whip P.R. Dasmunsi and CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee as to what was government’s stand to meet emergency arising out of a war on Iraq.

On the issue of war on Iraq, Mr Vajpayee said he had met several foreign dignitaries and none had assured that a war could be averted.

“We have to be prepared for such a situation. The entire country and the House have to stand unitedly,” he said.

Mr Vajpayee said there was need to find a middle path to resolve the current situation in the world “which is delicately poised.”

After Mr Vajpayee’s reply, the motion was adopted by a voice vote after rejecting Opposition amendments.

The Prime Minister’s reply was marked by a rare verbal duel between Mr Vajpayee and Leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi.

Taking strong exception to Ms Gandhi’s charge that the BJP was using Pakistan-sponsored terrorism for polarising society, Mr Vajpayee said this was regrettable and unfortunate.

The Prime Minister said, “There are 100 ways to do politics. It is the people who will decide ultimately as they have done in Himachal Pradesh now and they did earlier in Gujarat”. This drew jeers from the Congress benches, who reminded him of the BJP debacle in the assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh. The BJP members countered it by shouting Gujarat.

On Ms Gandhi’s charge on terrorism, he retorted “where are we using terrorism to divide the country. You exaggerate one issue to show that it is the biggest problem.”

Observing such talk did not project India in proper light before the international community, he said the country would never leave the path of secularism and ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav’.

Recalling that the word secularism was not even mentioned by architects of the Constitution, Mr Vajpayee said at that time no need was felt for its inclusion.

When Mr Vajpayee sought to refute Ms Gandhi’s charge that the government had failed to fulfil its pledge of providing one crore jobs a year by quoting official figures, the latter rose to intervene and taunted by asking him as what happened to the promise made by the NDA government and the Prime Minister.

“By now, you should have created over 3.50 crore jobs,” a confident looking Ms Gandhi observed.

“When we said we will provide one crore jobs, it did not mean that Government will call one crore people and give them jobs”, Mr Vajpayee tried to hit back in lighter vein.

But he got more serious when Opposition members supported Ms Gandhi’s contention and said when the government promised this, it did not mean just government jobs but creation of employment opportunities through economic growth.

The Prime Minister then read out figures quickly provided to him by his officials and said the net jobs created in 2002-03 were 84 lakh while in 2001-02, these were 79 lakh and the year before 73 lakh.

The Prime Minister also chided the Opposition, saying “what sort of politics is this ? If government says people are getting jobs, you say they are not. You can’t challenge official figures”.

“If you say one crore jobs are not enough and more should be provided, I can understand that,” he said adding he was ready for a debate on the issue.

Referring to Indo-Pak tensions, Mr Vajpayee accused Islamabad of creating them and regretted that the USA had failed to persuade Pakistan to stop indulging in cross-border terrorism.

This (failure) showed the US weakness and we will keep this in mind while evolving future strategy,” he said, while making it clear that India was a responsible nuclear-weapon power but the same could not be said about “our neighbour”.

The Prime Minister said when Parliament was attacked then it seemed that the country would have to reply in a befitting manner.

But, he said, India was given assurances that Pakistan would stop terrorism and the picture was also a mixed one as there was a step-up and lull in terrorist activities because of which the country remained on alert.

Taking a dig at the Opposition which wanted to know as to what happened to his talk of “aar-par ki ladai” (fight to the finish), Mr Vajpayee said it would have been fight to the finish if there was a war. But, the objective was achieved without fighting a war.

He said there were still positive signals and whenever they change in future, “we will react accordingly”.

The House debated the presidential address for 10 hours spanning two days.

Mr Vajpayee rebutted Ms Gandhi’s criticism that the government discriminated Opposition-ruled states like Rajasthan in allocation of drought relief.

Furnishing figures on drought relief allocations, he said Rajasthan, in fact, had been given 29 lakh tonnes of foodgrains which was 44 per cent of the total allocations made to all states to face the situation. In addition, he had given Rs 50 crore from PM’s fund when he visited the state earlier.

He also chided the Opposition, accusing it of attempting to break the NDA and wean away allies of the BJP by describing the government as BJP-led one and trying to create a wedge in the ruling coalition.


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