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Cong keeps up George ban

New Delhi, Nov. 21: The Congress is keen on continuing its boycott of National Democratic Alliance convener George Fernandes. Party MPs in both Houses of Parliament are refusing to ask him questions during Question Hour.

A meeting convened by Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi today to end the standoff failed to make a breakthrough.

Shivraj Patil and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi represented the Congress at the meeting, while parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan was there from the government’s side. Among the other Opposition leaders present were Ramji Lal Suman of the Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and P.H. Pandian of the ADMK.

Joshi underlined the need for an amicable settlement but the Congress refused to budge and sought more time to discuss the issue with Opposition parties.

Informed sources said the Congress delegation insisted on a motion against Fernandes to censure his conduct in the Tehelka exposé. Though the government said it was willing to discuss the defence minister’s conduct in an “appropriate manner”, the Congress was keen that Fernandes should be censured and the motion discussed under a rule that requires voting. The party’s hard stand is unacceptable to the government, which wants the main Opposition party to be more flexible.

In the last session of Parliament, the Opposition and the government had come close to ending the stalemate but the talks fell through because there was no agreement on the wording of the motion against the defence minister. The Congress had then insisted that the motion should be discussed under a House rule that would entail voting, but the government said Fernandes should not be singled out as there was no “concrete” or specific allegation in the exposé.

Congress sources said the party was keen to prolong Fernandes’ boycott as it was waiting for the outcome of the inquiry being conducted by the Venkataswami Commission. But lack of political rapport with the defence minister was also causing problems in ending the deadlock, they added.

When Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee drafted Fernandes back into his council of ministers, the party had vehemently opposed the move. It argued that the Venkataswami Commission should first clear Fernandes.

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