The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Double blow to George boycott rollback

New Delhi, July 25: Efforts to end the boycott of George Fernandes ran into fresh hurdles today with the Opposition remaining divided on a truce and the government refusing to accept the Congress’ proposal for a discussion on Tehelka in the Lok Sabha as well.

The government had yesterday agreed to allow a short-duration debate in the Rajya Sabha on Monday on a notice given by Congress MP Suresh Pachauri, after which the party indicated it “could consider” lifting the boycott, at least in the Upper House.

But parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj told reporters today: “If the Congress’ official position is to have a discussion in both Houses, we will not have it in either House.”

The minister also distanced herself from the efforts made to end Fernandes’ “non-recognition”, saying that the idea to have a debate in the Upper House was not the government’s “brainwave” but was mutually worked out after discussions with party leaders from both Houses.

Asked why the government was against allowing a discussion in the Lower House, Swaraj said: “The basic principle is of a boycott. It was a decision taken by parties, by the Congress as the Congress, the Samajwadi Party as the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal as the Rashtriya Janata Dal. If it ends in one House, it is automatically taken to mean that it has ended in the other House.”

She claimed that senior Congress leaders had conveyed to her their willingness to settle for a debate in just the Upper House. “Ask them who backed out for an explanation. Why tie up Rajya Sabha business with that of Lok Sabha'” she asked and stressed that there was no question of the government reneging on any assurance made to the Congress.

Non-Congress sources also pinned the blame for the twists and turns in the Fernandes boycott issue on the Congress. At an informal and unscheduled meeting of the Opposition this morning, leaders of the Left parties and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) made two issues clear to the Congress.

One, they would lift the boycott only if Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee explained to the House why Fernandes had resigned after the Tehelka tapes were made public and why he was reinstated. Two, as the boycott decision was taken collectively, they would not support any unilateral attempt by the Congress at ending it.

Left sources insisted that they had no idea that a truce had been worked out. They said the meeting was held after they learnt of the “development” from newspapers.

The non-Congress Opposition also refused to buy the Congress’ argument that continuing the boycott was counter-productive because the defence minister could not be quizzed on the several controversies his ministry was mired in.

“If we have done it for a year-and-a-half, what is the tearing hurry to end it now' All these controversies are anyway being raked up outside Parliament,” said a Bihar leader.

Faced with the prospect of the fragile Opposition unity coming apart after the Left and the RJD stuck to their guns, the Congress quickly upped its ante and demanded a discussion in the Lok Sabha.

The Opposition is likely to meet again on Monday and, this time, the non-Congress parties have requested Sonia Gandhi to be present while they discuss the boycott.

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