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Dinner date dropped

New Delhi, Aug. 19: The Prime Minister, encouraged by the unstinting support of his coalition partners, has agreed to regular meetings with his MPs during the first week of each Parliament session.

Several NDA members in the Lok Sabha complained during yesterday’s parliamentary party meeting that they had no opportunity to air grievances or offer suggestions. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called the meeting to discuss the NDA’s strategy against the Congress-sponsored no confidence motion moved yesterday.

In a nod to their absolute support, Vajpayee invited the MPs to dinner today but called it off as the debate continued late into the night.

He said the Telugu Desam Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, both outside supporters of the government, would also be called to the meetings. Desam’s K. Yerran Naidu and BSP’s Rashid Alvi were invited to yesterday’s meeting.

Defence minister George Fernandes appeared to be the target not just of the Opposition but also of his own coalition partners.

Several allies said Fernandes was “indifferent” as he did not call regular NDA meetings to discuss their problems.

Fernandes, also the NDA convener, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and several of their senior colleagues were present at yesterday’s meeting.

Swaraj tried to deflect the criticism by saying that meetings were held. Fernandes, however, welcomed the MPs’ suggestion.

Though the NDA does meet to discuss major national issues, no meetings are held to tackle problems faced by individual coalition members.

“Such NDA meetings (on major issues) are attended by senior party leaders and individual MPs do not get a chance to make any suggestions,” a Janata Dal (United) member said.

A DMK member vented his anger at Fernandes for not doing anything concrete for MDMK chief Vaiko, who has been in jail since the middle of last year under anti-terror law charges.

“Vaiko has been a staunch supporter of this government and, in particular, of Fernandes. But more than a year has lapsed; neither the Centre nor the NDA convener could do anything in the matter,” he said.

Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, too, is unhappy with Fernandes for not holding NDA meetings.

A Trinamul source said allies face several problems in their states, especially where “we are not in power, but there is very little help from the Centre and the NDA convener.”

An upbeat Vajpayee soothed frayed nerves by focusing on the coalition’s show of unity. “I am proud of the unity of the NDA and its supporting parties. We are all together and the world cannot believe that so many parties could come together.”

The government, he told the 300-odd MPs in the Central Hall of Parliament, would emerge “victorious” from the no-confidence motion. The coalition “will fight out the challenge even though it was assured of a victory”.

Advani pitched in with his bit when he said: “Together, we will face the challenge and present our achievements as this debate will not be focused on any particular issue, unlike other discussions in Parliament.”

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