The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In George I trust: Atal

New Delhi, Aug. 19: Atal Bihari Vajpayee certified that George Fernandes was “innocent”, described the charges in the Tehelka sting operation as “baseless”, called the Opposition’s boycott of the defence minister “unjustified” and asserted that he was brought back into the cabinet because he, as Prime Minister, wanted it.

Vajpayee’s clean chit came during the debate on the no-confidence motion, which had its roots in controversies around Fernandes.

The Prime Minister said: “One good outcome of these two days is that Fernandes’ vanvaas (exile) is over. He is my colleague, he was a freedom fighter and a trade union leader. To behave like this with him, this boycott in Parliament, what on earth is going on' This is not the kind of attitude we in Parliament had towards one another. I want to congratulate Fernandes because he withstood the humiliation heaped on him but never shirked his responsibilities.”

Wrapping up the debate, Sonia Gandhi said none from the ruling combine, including the Prime Minister, gave a convincing response to her nine-point chargesheet.

“When I talk about the country’s interests, they question the style of my speech. They make personal allegations against me. But no one from the government has responded to our charges in the last two days,” she said.

As expected, the motion was defeated — 312 against and 186 for — on the stroke of midnight.

Vajpayee’s intervention, which came at the end of a day-long slanging match, was for the most part conciliatory. But when it came to defending Fernandes, he was on the front foot.

When he took a potshot at the CPM for staging a walkout when Fernandes spoke yesterday, CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee reminded Vajpayee that the defence minister had said he would not return to the government unless he was exonerated.

Unfazed, Vajpayee replied: “I brought him back, he did not want to return. It is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to appoint his ministers.”

“Whether it is going to a desert or the Siachen glacier, he has never shirked his responsibility. He was always there to boost the morale of our jawans. It is a grave injustice to, therefore, not allow him to speak without any proof to back the false charges levelled against him. Or is it that the Opposition is scared of Fernandes'” Vajpayee asked.

He was equally nettled by the Opposition’s charge that his government had “compromised” India’s interests in pursuing its foreign policy. “Consensus was the byword on foreign policy, then and now. But you (Opposition) said we have mortgaged our foreign policy. What have we mortgaged' I refused to send troops to Iraq. When the issue came up, I made it a point to speak to the Opposition. But now it is made out as though the decision against sending our troops was because of the Opposition. I can also reveal that who (in the all-party meeting) had a particular point of view in the beginning and then revised it later.”

Vajpayee lashed out at the manner in which the motion had been phrased.

“In the leader of the Opposition’s speech, she said the BJP-led government had proved itself to be incompetent, irresponsible and brazenly corrupt. Differences can exist but parties have worked shoulder to shoulder. Is this the way to show your differences' It seems the dictionary was carefully scanned and the words were chosen. But this is not word play.”

Sonia expressed surprise that Vajpayee raised questions about the relevance of the no-trust motion and its wording. It is the Opposition’s moral responsibility to “expose the government”. About the wording, she said: “A no-confidence motion has to be worded to the Opposition’s liking and not to that of the government.”

Rejecting the Prime Minister’s contention that her chargesheet was not backed by material evidence, she embarked on a point-by-point demolition job. Sonia said her charge that national security and defence were under threat had been borne out by the 19th report of the standing committee of Parliament on defence which BJP leader Madan Lal Khurana headed.


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