M A I N   N E W S

BJP drama to divert attention, says PM
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

On Board PM’S official Aircraft, December 7
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today set the proverbial cat among the pigeons when he described the ongoing disruption of Parliament by the BJP as a drama and an attempt to deflect attention from its internal problems.

“Look at what is happening in the BJP…the internal tussle on leadership, Uma Bharti’s expulsion and the power struggle in Madhya Pradesh,” Dr Singh remarked when asked if the Opposition would allow Parliament to function since its demand for Mr K. Natwar Singh’s resignation from the Union Cabinet had been met.

Dr Singh made these comments in the course of an informal interaction with mediapersons on his return from a three-day trip to Russia, which was overshadowed by the developments on the Volcker-Natwar issue back home.

“As I have said before, the principal opposition party, the BJP, is doing this drama to divert attention from its internal problems,” Dr Singh said, stating it is sad that party politics is forcing people to do things which are not in the interest of the country.

The Prime Minister’s statement is bound to create a fresh furore in Parliament as the Opposition is already miffed with Dr Singh over his three-day-old remarks, made en route to Moscow, that he did not attach much significance to the BJP’s campaign against Congress President Sonia Gandhi in connection with the Volcker controversy. Angry BJP leaders had protested that Dr Singh had criticised them on foreign soil though PMO officials maintained he had spoken on board the special Air-India flight.

When Dr Singh’s attention was drawn to the BJP’s objections, the Prime Minister merely remarked, “But I also criticise them on Indian territory.” This will provide fresh fodder to the BJP which is already on the warpath and is looking to put the government on the mat. Any attempts to arrive at a compromise to allow Parliament to function smoothly may well be nixed now.

As was the case on his way to Russia, the Prime Minister was equally evasive today when questioned about Mr Natwar Singh’s resignation which reached Moscow while he was attending the banquet hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin last night. Dr Singh said he would meet the former minister when it was convenient for the two of them though he had spoken to him on the telephone from Russia. He refused to confirm if he had accepted the resignation, a fact which was put down to propriety. Dr Singh also disagreed that the government could have handled this issue better, saying he had no regrets on this front.

Asked if it would now be easier for him to appoint a new External Affairs Minister, Dr Singh hedged the issue but reiterated that a reshuffle of the Union Cabinet will be undertaken after the Parliament session and hinted that it could be before the AICC plenary session to be held in Hyderabad from January 21-23.

Although Natwar Singh-related developments again dominated the Prime Minister’s press interaction, Dr Singh also dwelt on his Russian visit which, he maintained, had been quite productive as the two countries had broken new ground in matters relating to defence and energy security. He refused to spell out the details of his discussion with President Putin when questioned specifically about the possibility of Russians supplying nuclear fuel for Tarapur.

“All issues which are relevant under this category were taken up,” Dr Singh said, adding that Russia had also evinced interest in getting involved in the construction of the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. He said India is short on hydrocarbons and it will help if the Russians come on board.


Opposition targets Sonia,
walks out from both Houses
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 7
The BJP today demanded the resignation of National Advisory Council chairperson Sonia Gandhi, buoyed by its success in forcing Natwar Singh to submit his papers.

However, a tirade by the Congress and its allies against the Opposition for the demand resulted in their walkout from both Houses of Parliament.

Raising the issue during Zero Hour in the Lok Sabha, Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani expressed his displeasure over the reasons cited by Natwar Singh over his resignation.

Both Houses had been stalled for the past two days over the demands for Natwar and Sonia’s resignations.

While the focus was on Natwar on Monday, it shifted to Congress president on Tuesday after it became clear that the former External Affairs Minister would step down.

“If Natwar Singh was not at fault, why was he removed? If he was removed, so should Sonia Gandhi,” Advani demanded.

Advani, who led the walkout, contended that Sonia should quit as NAC chairperson saying “double standards will not do”.

He said the yardstick for Natwar should be applied to her as the Congress was also named as a non-contractual beneficiary along with the former External Affairs Minister in the Volcker findings.

“Our leader (Sonia) is not on a transfer order from outside,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priyaranjan Dasmunsi said in a spirited reply telling Advani that he might be a “victim of outside dictates” but not the Congress president.

Dasmunsi said the Opposition demand emanated from its “frustration” as the BJP had been attacking Sonia from the day she took over as Congress chief.

Maintaining that the government was determined to get to the truth, he said it would await report of the Justice Pathak Inquiry Authority.

In Rajya Sabha, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, responding to the remarks of Leader of the Opposition Jaswant Singh, charged the Opposition with making an “illogical and irrational” demand as nowhere the Volcker Committee had named the Congress president.

He made it clear that Natwar had resigned not because he was found guilty but to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament, which was disrupted due to the irrational demand of the Opposition.

“The government has never stated that Natwar Singh is guilty. What Natwar Singh has done (decision to resign) is fully justified. It is not correct to say that accusation against him has been established,” he said.

Jaswant Singh, in his submission, criticised the “collective hysteria” of the ruling Congress for repeatedly protesting in the House.

He said the incidents that unfolded in the wake of Volcker issue was saddening. The situation was still incomplete as action was yet to be taken against the other entity mentioned in the report, he said.

This sparked uproarious scenes as Congress members protested the attack on their leader.


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