The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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George boycott crack in Cong

New Delhi, May 8: Four Congress Lok Sabha MPs could land in trouble for disobeying party orders by posing questions to defence minister George Fernandes. The Congress maintains that Fernandes has no moral right to be minister until he is cleared in the Tehelka scam and has boycotted him for nearly 18 months.

Jagmeet Singh Brar, who has recently been appointed AICC secretary, Lakshman Singh, younger brother of the Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh, former Union minister K.P. Singh Deo and parliamentary party secretary Vilas Muttemwar are the MPs likely to get into hot water.

Brar was the worst offender as he sought a reply from Fernandes over the high rate of MiG-21 crashes. The lawmaker posed his question even as his party colleagues, led by deputy floor leader Shivraj Patil, walked out along with Rashtriya Janata Dal and Left MPs. Brar not only got a reply from Fernandes but also sought clarifications, ignoring repeated pleas from party floor managers not to go through with his call attention notice.

Singh sat through the half-an-hour proceeding, not heeding Congress requests to leave. Singh Deo sat in the House, insisting he would hear Fernandes’ reply, but left as soon as the minister made his first detailed statement. Muttemwar left reluctantly before Fernandes spoke.

An angry high command swung into action immediately after the incident. Ambika Soni, general secretary in charge of Sonia Gandhi’s office, and Ahmed Patel, Sonia’s political secretary, questioned Brar. At their instance, Brar wrote a letter to Sonia, “regretting” his conduct. He was also asked to approach the media to make a public apology.

Singh’s fate was no different — he had submitted his apology to Patil. The party was stunned by his suggestion to Fernandes that the Centre should go ahead and acquire advanced jet trainers and not bother about the Congress’ continuing boycott. Soni and Patel were trying to obtain a copy of the official record of House proceedings to ascertain what he had said.

The leadership appears to have taken a lenient view of Singh Deo and Muttemwar’s action. Despite this, they have not yet been let off.

“These MPs violated the party whip. It amounted to a very serious breach of party discipline,” Soni said after she and Patel spoke to Patil. Soni is yet to speak to Singh, Singh Deo and Muttemwar.

She gave the MPs little scope to plead innocence. “It is clear to everyone that the Congress is not asking any question or seeking any reply from Fernandes.”

who has no moral right to be defence minister until exonerated in the Tehelka scam.”

This was a reference to Brar's plea that he was not sure if a call attention notice was the same as making queries during question hour. Brar also said he had been waiting for 10 years to discuss the MiG crashes as they concerned his constituency and the people of Punjab.

Soni and Patil said Sonia would decide what action should be taken against the MPs for their breach of discipline which had caused the Congress serious “embarrassment”.

Today was the second instance of party MPs by-passing the Fernandes boycott. Some months ago, an MP attended a meeting of the consultative committee attached to the defence ministry. The meeting was presided by Fernandes. But the Congress did not take any action then.

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