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Rivals in dirty debate signal
- No-trust scrap to score brownie points

New Delhi, Aug. 17: Don’t expect the government to tremble even, but don’t be surprised if rotten tomatoes fly.

When the debate on the no-confidence motion moved by Congress president Sonia Gandhi opens tomorrow, the attempt on either side will be to see the other half of the House sports more red faces.

And when it gets dirty, expect foreign origin to figure somewhere. Defence minister George Fernandes’ Samata Party has indicated it will hang out some alleged violations of law by Sonia before she became an Indian citizen for display in the House.

Fernandes is bristling under a 19-month Opposition boycott in Parliament and the target of the no-confidence motion is the charge of misdemeanour in defence purchases during the Kargil war.

Accusations that a vigilance report on the subject had been hidden from the Public Accounts Committee are being turned by the Opposition into an attack on the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s record on national security.

The government faces no threat with the National Democratic Alliance holding a comfortable tally of 302 (without the BSP and the ADMK) against the Opposition’s 216 in a House of 544 (two vacancies).

Even before the debate starts at noon, the BJP claimed that the Congress had notched up its first embarrassment, having accepted to hear Fernandes, after boycotting him all this time.

“We are making George Fernandes speak in the House and we will make the Opposition hear his speech. As they have been saying they will boycott him, they will face a peculiar situation,” BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said in Bangalore.

Although it is difficult to see how the Congress, itself being the sponsor of the motion, can walk out when Fernandes speaks, some other strategy may be in the works.

“Fernandes will not be allowed to make any reply,” senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said in Jaipur.

The Vajpayee camp heaved a sigh of relief as the DMK, which was sulking yesterday over the BJP’s bid to secure its rival ADMK’s support, today offered to vote with the government. Ending the suspense, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi said his party would vote against the motion even if it found the ADMK on its side.

ADMK leader Jayalalithaa is keeping her cards close to her chest until tomorrow morning.

Karunanidhi’s change of heart came after Naidu said his party opposed the invocation of the Esma by the Jayalalithaa government against him.

On the other side, Sharad Pawar brought joy with his announcement that his party will back the Congress motion.

The Prime Minister will intervene on the second day of the debate on Tuesday.

Vajpayee has convened a meeting of the NDA parliamentary party tomorrow at 9.30 am while Sonia will meet Opposition leaders at 10.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Fernandes will spearhead the government’s reply tomorrow. The two were closeted with law minister Arun Jaitley, parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and BJP chief whip V.K. Malhotra this evening.

Congress deputy leader in the Lok Sabha Shivraj Patil is meeting party leaders tonight for another round of parleys.

 

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