New Delhi, Aug. 16: The government today donned its battle gear ahead of the no-trust motion on Monday with the Prime Minister declaring that his regime would defend itself and attack the Opposition at the same time and boldly picking George Fernandes as one of his main speakers.
After the initial surprise at the Opposition-sponsored move, the government — secure that the motion will be defeated in Parliament given the NDA’s numerical majority — has decided to go on the offensive. This is evident by its decision to field defence minister Fernandes — at the centre of Parliament’s storm — as one of its principal speakers.
“We will defend the government and attack the Opposition at the same time,” Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told NDA leaders at a meeting this morning.
Speaking to reporters later, the BJP’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha V.K. Malhotra said: “It is a vote of no-confidence against the council of ministers. The Prime Minister said we will attack and defend at the same time. George is not the only minister against whom this no-confidence vote has been moved.”
The decision to field Fernandes is meant to expose the chinks in the Opposition, which has not taken a coordinated stand on his boycott. The Samajwadi Party and the Nationalist Congress Party — which said they would vote for the motion — have, however, registered their opposition to the boycott on record.
From the NDA’s viewpoint, if the Opposition stays put during Fernandes’ speech, it effectively means the nearly two-year boycott will end in a whimper.
Malhotra took a cue from Vajpayee and deputy L.K. Advani, both of whom reportedly stressed the trust vote should be converted into a “major opportunity”. “This will be the opportunity to list the government’s achievements in the economic sphere, education, health and security before the nation and also to prove how baseless the Opposition’s allegations are,” he said.
The two-day debate — scheduled to start at noon on August 18 and end by August 19 evening with Vajpayee’s reply — will be telecast live on Doordarshan.
Vajpayee has convened a meeting of NDA legislators in the Central Hall on Monday morning before Parliament assembles. This will be the NDA’s first parliamentary meeting since it came to power in 1999.
The government is not taking any chances with its numbers. The parties supporting it from outside — the Telugu Desam Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party — have been asked to attend the meeting. Allies have been told to issue a three-line whip asking MPs to be present and vote against the motion.
Efforts are on to coax MDMK chief Vaiko — in Vellore jail since his arrest under the anti-terrorism act over a year ago — to appeal to the Supreme Court for parole so that he can be present during voting.
But a jarring note was struck in the NDA’s efforts to show solidarity after Sushma Swaraj said yesterday that the BJP may approach the ADMK for support. Sources said this spurred DMK central minister T.R. Baalu into declaring at the NDA meeting that there was “no need” to seek help from outside parties like the ADMK since the coalition had a comfortable majority.
Although Fernandes claimed there was no “contradiction” in having the Tamil Nadu adversaries on the NDA’s side, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi hinted in Thanjavur his support could not be taken for granted.