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Ambush on Speaker session

New Delhi, March 14: Barely has the Jharkhand cacophony begun to subside and Parliament resumed its business than battle lines are being redrawn in Delhi.

The BJP-led alliance has indirectly asked presiding officers of Assemblies and legislative councils of the states it rules to boycott a meeting Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has called on March 20 to discuss the constitutional powers of the judiciary and the legislature.

The move came on a day Chatterjee indicated that he would go ahead with the conference, though the government had rejected an all-party suggestion for a presidential reference to the Supreme Court on the ruling that advanced the Jharkhand trust vote.

'I don't care what the sarkar says. I don't care,' Chatterjee said. However, he said there is 'no confrontation' between the judiciary and the legislature.

The NDA, unable to make up its mind on pursuing a threatened no-confidence motion against Chatterjee, adopted a resolution this evening.

It said: 'The NDA is sure that the Speakers of legislative Assemblies would exercise statesmanship with a constitutional vision before deciding to attend this conference and assisting the Lok Sabha Speaker to pursue an agenda which can be harmful to Indian democracy.'

NDA sources said the resolution was phrased 'cautiously' so that the coalition would not be perceived as thrusting its 'diktat' on presiding officers who are deemed to be above party politics. 'Our Speakers are intelligent enough to understand the message,' BJP leader V.K. Malhotra said.

The sub-text was that even a 'limited' boycott by presiding officers would strengthen the NDA's line that the office of the Lok Sabha Speaker was getting 'enmeshed' in partisan politics. The NDA is in power in seven states, but some are ruled by the BJP's allies, all of which are not keen on pushing the issue beyond a point.

The Telugu Desam Party attended the NDA meeting today but did not confirm whether it was a party to the resolution.

The NDA is also hoping that with the government distancing itself from the Speaker's views, the presiding officers of Congress-ruled states may not show up for the meeting.

However, Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma defended Chatterjee and said: 'He understands the Constitution and the role of the Speaker very well.'

The CPM picked up the gauntlet thrown by the BJP and is considering moving a privilege motion against the party for 'insulting' the office of the Speaker.

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