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Cassette clash lashes Lucknow

New Delhi/Lucknow, March 4: The entire Opposition in Uttar Pradesh, led by the Samajwadi Party, today served a notice of no-confidence against the Mayavati government, capping a day of swift political developments in the wake of a cassette and CD controversy.

Late last night, a Samajwadi delegation handed over to Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri a video cassette and a CD that reportedly shows Mayavati ordering Bahujan Samaj Party MPs and MLAs not to “swallow” all the constituency development funds but “contribute” some to the party as they owe their political status to it.

An Opposition delegation today met Assembly secretary R.P. Pandey and served the notice against the BSP-BJP government. It included Samajwadi’s Azam Khan, Congress’ Pramod Tewari and Rashtriya Kranti Party leader Kalyan Singh.

Mayavati hit back at the Samajwadi by directing the chief secretary to inquire into the alleged misuse of the chief minister’s discretionary fund during Mulayam Singh Yadav’s 1993-95 tenure.

At a news conference this morning, she denounced the tapes as an “editing trick”. “I was only exhorting my partymen against following the tactics adopted by SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav who collects such funds from his MPs and MLAs,” she said. The Samajwadi, she said, had taken out relevant portions of the footage to use the cassette against her.

According to highly placed sources, the Centre indicated if it was established that the Uttar Pradesh chief minister had directed her MPs to contribute part of their constituency development fund money to her party, the matter could be referred to the Lok Sabha privilege committee. The committee would place its report in the House.

The Samajwadi, that dubbed the controversy “Tehelka: Part II”, was unwilling to settle for anything less than a CBI probe.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, who spoke to Mayavati today after the Samajwadi stalled Lok Sabha proceedings, will make a statement tomorrow after watching the video and “examining other evidence”.

In Delhi, official sources sought to underplay the implications and said: “We will have to see whether she said it or not. Then, did she say only about her MPs or all MPs irrespective of party labels'” The official sources, however, admitted the issue was not Uttar Pradesh-centric, a reason why Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi took note of it.

The Centre and the BJP were clearly unwilling to speak out against Mayavati, given the BJP’s growing dependence on the BSP in the state.

In the video tapes, Mayavati allegedly said legislators got a 5 to 10 per cent commission on any job contracted under the development fund scheme, and stressed a hike in the fund for both MPs and MLAs.

In a half-apologetic tone, BJP sources said the cassette referred to a period when Mayavati was not chief minister and thus inferred there was no need for the Samajwadi to create a fuss.

Samajwadi chief whip in the Lok Sabha Akhilesh Singh refuted the argument. “It’s a long cassette on the past and the present. It shows Mayavati as habituated to this kind of corruption.”

All that the BJP was willing to say was that the Prime Minister should call an all-party meeting to review the development fund scheme and evolve a “transparent” system of fund-raising and spending.

BJP sources said: “She’s (Mayavati) one of our most valuable allies and there is no way we can criticise her openly.” Even the normally belligerent BJP leaders from the state such as Vinay Katiyar and Rajnath Singh were silent.

The issue was brought up by Akhilesh, who tabled an adjournment motion and demanded suspension of question hour for a discussion on the tapes.

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