The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia hits NDA, Advani cries India

New Delhi, Aug. 18: A divided Opposition came down severely on the Vajpayee government as the Lok Sabha today took up the debate on the first no-trust move against the ruling combine.

Oozing confidence that the numbers are on the government side, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, as the first speaker for a “united” National Democratic Alliance, sought to ward off the threat from Congress president Sonia Gandhi by charging her with trying to denigrate India in the name of denigrating the government.

The first day of the debate saw the government facing some embarrassing moments as Opposition leaders like the CPM’s Somnath Chatterjee, Congress’ Jaipal Reddy and Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav refreshed the memories of many scams, particularly those relating to the Tehelka tapes.

Defence minister George Fernandes did get the opportunity he was looking for all these days to defend himself. But he was more into technicalities, including his explanation that rules prevented the “secret” Central Vigilance Commission report from being shown to the Public Accounts Committee — the fact that has led to the no-confidence motion.

Perhaps, the Opposition cause would have been served better had there been greater unity. Former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar did not even support the no-trust move. The Left parties and Laloo Prasad Yadav’s RJD members walked out the moment Fernandes opened his mouth.

In contrast, the BJP’s difficult partners like the Telugu Desam, Trinamul Congress and the DMK were firmly behind the government.

Conceding at the very outset that she did not have the numbers to get the motion through, Sonia sought to wrest the moral and political initiative as she launched an attack on the government’s five-year record.

The move, she said, was not prompted because the Opposition had numbers on its side, but to expose Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s double-speak, the capricious and arrogant way of the government’s functioning, the threat it posed to the basic tenets of the Constitution, freedom and justice system and denigration of parliamentary institutions.

Even as she was repeatedly interrupted by treasury bench members during her 70-minute speech, Sonia made it a point to take on each one of the front-ranking government leaders — Vajpayee, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and, most important, Fernandes.

She did pick Fernandes and Advani as special targets as she highlighted the government’s failures on defence and national security. She wondered how long the country would have to wait for the white paper Advani had promised on ISI activities five years ago.

Sonia charged the government with risking the lives of soldiers by its lethargic and irresponsible attitude. The government was not even spending the money allocated for defence modernisation, what with over Rs 24,000 crore remaining unspent. Even the money collected specifically for defence modernisation in the name of Kargil tax was diverted, she said.

She was equally harsh in her attack on the government over alleged corruption, which, she said, had assumed monumental proportions with the disclosure of the Taj Heritage Corridor scam, preceded by Tehelka, the Delhi Development Authority and UTI scandals.

Advani did not go for a point-by-point rebuttal of the charges. He cited recent write-ups by his ministerial colleague Arun Shourie and Amitabh Bachchan to present the case that India was on the road to growth and development and to a prominent place in the international community under the Vajpayee government.

Quoting Bachchan, he said since the dawn of the new millennium, India’s image abroad has gone up and the country was being taken seriously.

He wondered whether Sonia was trying to belittle these achievements and India’s growing image abroad. He accused her of undermining the successes of Vajpayee’s consensus approach to decision-making because of which several important steps such as creation of three new states were possible.

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