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Savarkar warm-up for polls

New Delhi, Aug. 19: The three-day-old Veer Savarkar controversy transformed into yet another parliamentary deadlock as an Assembly poll battle looms in Maharashtra.

Business lasted barely 90 minutes in the Lok Sabha today and both Houses were repeatedly adjourned before the presiding officers decided to call it a day.

Leader of the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee stuck to an assurance made yesterday and gave a statement this afternoon. He absolved the government of any direct involvement in the decision to remove Veer Savarkar’s plaque from Cellular Jail in Port Blair.

The decision was made by the board of trustees of Indian Oil Corporation chaired by the petroleum minister, defence minister Mukherjee said. The plaque was built with donation from the IOC.

“If the Prime Minister in his capacity as chancellor of Visva-Bharati University takes some decision, it has nothing to do with his decision as Prime Minister,” he said, making the point that petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar was part of the IOC decision in his capacity as chairman and not minister.

The controversy broke after Aiyar’s alleged order to remove the plaque provoked protests from the BJP-Shiv Sena.

Intervening in the row for the first time, leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani said as a former home minister, he knew no decision could be taken in the Union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands without government approval.

Soon thereafter, Lok Sabha proceedings collapsed. Prabhunath Singh of the Janata Dal (United) used unparliamentary language against Rashtriya Janata Dal leader R.K. Rana in a heated exchange, prompting Speaker Somnath Chatterjee to adjourn the House for the day.

Outside Parliament, the two Maharashtra allies played up the issue. The BJP’s Sushma Swaraj demanded immediate restoration of the plaque and an apology from Aiyar.

Aiyar turned down the apology demand in the Parliament House corridor. The Congress, however, kept a window open for compromise as senior leader Ambika Soni advised talks with the Prime Minister. The BJP’s Jaswant Singh did meet Manmohan Singh but said “nothing came out of it”.

As home minister Shivraj Patil and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar — both from Maharashtra — went into a huddle with Mukherjee over the fallout in the state, the local Congress said “derogatory remarks” should be “avoided” against any leader of a “different ideology”.

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