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Advani show short shrift stings George

New Delhi, Oct. 16: The deputy Prime Minister’s decision to showcase the achievements of the NDA government on its third anniversary on October 13 has accentuated the tension between L.K. Advani and defence minister George Fernandes.

The Fernandes camp feels that Advani should have had the courtesy to invite the defence minister, who is also the convener of the NDA, to the show.

Another issue that has rankled Fernandes’ supporters is the announcement by Advani that a decision on troops pullout from the frontline would be taken by Wednesday, which is a defence ministry preserve.

“Advani made it (the press conference) an exclusive BJP affair whereas it was to highlight the achievements of the NDA government. What message are you sending to the allies'” asked a senior Samata Party leader.

“Fernandes should have been there. He was very much in town. If the Prime Minister had convened a similar press conference, he would have definitely asked Fernandes to be present,” the Samata leader added.

Sources said Advani’s statements at the press conference on disinvestment have not gone down well with Fernandes, who has been instrumental in articulating the views of the anti-divestment section within the government.

Advani had said on Sunday that while he was not against debates and discussions on divestment, he would “like all ministers to have their debates at homes”.

The deputy Prime Minister had also said that “after three months, the government will ponder over selling” HPCL and BPCL — the oil giants at the centre of the divestment controversy.

The press conference was the latest in a series of moves that have upset the Samata. A fortnight ago, Advani was appointed chairman of the standing committee of the inter-state council, replacing Fernandes.

As home minister, Advani was already chairman of the council. “What was the need to usurp the post of standing committee chief, too,” asked a Samata leader close to Fernandes.

Fernandes’ recent breakfast meeting with Advani’s political rival Murli Manohar Joshi to chalk out a joint strategy against disinvestment, too, did not help ease the tension.

Advani, who had backed Fernandes on disinvestment till then, took a U-turn and supported the Prime Minister.

BJP sources said the home minister was alarmed at the growing friendship between the human resources development minister and the defence minister.

The two, with the backing of the RSS, had the potential to emerge as an alternative power centre.

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