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Sonia springs a surprise hug on Sush
BJP sticks to oust-duo cry

New Delhi, May 7: Sonia Gandhi surprised Sushma Swaraj with a hug at Parliament’s Central Hall this morning soon after the BJP had stalled the Houses again demanding the heads of two controversy-hit ministers.

BJP sources said their party was unlikely to return the gesture by smoothing the passage of key bills unless Pawan Bansal and Ashwani Kumar were sacked first.

Sushma was walking towards her chamber with L.K. Advani and her private secretaries when Sonia spotted her. Onlookers said the Congress president took quick steps towards Sushma, tapped her on the shoulder and put an arm round her.

The leader of the Lok Sabha Opposition seemed taken aback although by now she is used to Sonia holding her hand during conversations.

Sushma had earlier said she felt “let down” last week when Sonia allegedly egged her MPs on to disrupt the Opposition leader’s House speech before the Finance Bill was passed. Sushma had then declared the BJP would not attend a single meeting called by parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath or Speaker Meira Kumar in protest.

BJP sources conjectured that Sonia, intent on seeing the food security bill passed this session, had decided to make up with Sushma.

“They exchanged pleasantries. A serious conversation or a deal-breaker was not possible in a place where they were being watched by so many eyes,” a Sushma aide said.

BJP sources said Sonia’s Track II diplomacy was unlikely to yield instant results.

“It’s a political fight at the fag end of a discredited government’s tenure. Elections are round the corner and hands of friendship won’t help,” a BJP leader said.

“The decision is not Sushma’s alone, anyway. The BJP collectively thinks that we should not bail the government out unless the two ministers are dumped.”

Sources said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assigned agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, not exactly a food bill enthusiast, to work on the BJP and the Left. Pawar has made it clear the bill will not be passed without a full-fledged discussion.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar has said that unless Bansal and Kumar quit, his party would not allow a discussion on pending bills.

Sources said the removal of any one of the two ministers would not mollify the BJP. The party believes that Kumar’s job is likely to be safe unless the Supreme Court is “extraordinarily harsh” on the government in the matter of changes having been made to the CBI’s status report in the coal-allocation probe.

BJP sources tried to counter the Congress’s argument that the BJP was showing its “anti-poor” attitude by not helping the government see the food security bill through.

“Our Chhattisgarh government pioneered the food security legislation. The law was widely praised even by former and present members of Sonia’s NAC (National Advisory Council) as a model legislation. If the BJP was anti-poor, would our government have been the first to pass the law?” a source asked.