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George won’t return boycott compliment

New Delhi, June 1: George Fernandes today saved the Congress-led Centre some embarrassment when he rejected several National Democratic Alliance members’ demand to boycott “tainted ministers” in Parliament.

But to put the United Progressive Alliance government on the mat both inside and outside Parliament, the NDA decided to meet President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to press for the removal of the “tainted ministers”, a reference to chargesheeted members of the Union cabinet.

The former ruling alliance met today to discuss House strategy on the eve of a nine-day Parliament session and also the election of the Lok Sabha Speaker and his deputy.

According to sources, the NDA convener said at the meeting that it was “not morally right to boycott any minister who has taken oath”. Asked if his alliance would go for a boycott in Parliament as the Congress and the Left had done in his case in the wake of the Tehelka sting operation, Fernandes said: “We do not follow the culture of the Congress and the Marxists.”

The NDA also discussed the Congress offer of deputy speakership to the Opposition. Its decision on the issue of election of Speaker and his deputy was left to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who presided over the meeting.

Fernandes, in consultation with Mamata Banerjee, had earlier mooted the name of Nationalist Trinamul Congress leader P.A. Sangma to take on the Congress-led coalition’s candidate — Somnath Chatterjee of the CPM — for the speakership. But the proposal apparently did not have many takers in the BJP.

Mamata had insisted on fielding Sangma, a former Speaker, but BJP leader Sushma Swaraj put her foot down, sources said.

Swaraj wanted a “consensual approach”, the sources added. “Why do you need a contest' Once they (UPA) evolved a consensus (on CPM leader Chatterjee), they approached us,” she is reported to have said, ruling out a confrontation.

Fernandes had been miffed with the ruling coalition for not consulting his alliance on evolving a consensus on Chatterjee. The Congress, however, acted fast and yesterday offered the post of deputy Speaker to the Opposition. Parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad today called on Vajpayee in this regard. He had met Advani and Fernandes yesterday.

Fernandes today said the NDA would follow the convention of the ruling party getting the speakership and the Opposition the deputy speakership. “Our commitment is to see that conventions are not broken.”

“We have left it to the chairman of the NDA (Vajpayee) for a final decision on this issue and it would be taken at the appropriate time,” Fernandes added, ruling out a confrontation.

Asked whether any name had figured at today’s meeting for the post of deputy Speaker, the former defence minister replied in the negative. BJP sources, however, said the Shiromani Akali Dal demanded the post for its nominee Charan Singh Atwal, the MP from Phillaur.

Some BJP leaders have mooted the names of colleagues Satyanarain Jatiya and Lakshmi Narayan Pandey.

Announcing the NDA’s stand after the 90-minute meeting, Fernandes told reporters that an appointment with the President would be sought tomorrow.

The NDA, he said, endorsed former deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani as leader of the Opposition. Advani was this morning elected the leader of the BJP parliamentary party.

Apart from Vajpayee, Fernandes, Swaraj and Mamata, the meeting was attended by Advani, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Jaswant Singh, parliamentary party spokesman V.K. Malhotra, Arjun Charan Sethi of the BJD, Chandrakant Khaire of the Shiv Sena and P.C. Thomas of the Indian Federal Democratic Party.

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