The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia job jibe gets Atal goat
- PM does not take kindly to criticism

New Delhi, March 3: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi traded barbs in the Lok Sabha today after the Congress chief taunted him for falling short on his election promise of providing one crore jobs a year.

The rare verbal duel occurred while the Prime Minister was replying to the motion of thanks on the President’s address to Parliament.

Sonia stopped Vajpayee midway through his speech. “By now you should have created 3.5 crore jobs' What happened to the promise made by the NDA government and the Prime Minister'” Sonia asked, intervening perhaps for the first time as leader of Opposition.

Vajpayee, who had come prepared with a sheaf of papers for the reply, countered, saying “jobs do not mean government jobs alone”. “When we said we will provide one crore jobs, it did not mean that (the) government will call one crore people and give them jobs.”

The Prime Minister then read out figures supplied by officials to say that 84 lakh jobs were created in 2002-03, 79 lakh in 2001-02 and 73 lakh the year before.

He then proceeded to chide the Opposition. “What sort of politics is this' If (the) government says people are getting jobs, you say they are not. You can’t challenge official figures. If you say one crore jobs are not enough and more should be provided, I can understand that,” he said, adding that he was ready for a debate on the issue.

Vajpayee, who wrapped up his speech and left the House soon after Sonia’s interruption, also found fault with her remarks on secularism, drought, terrorism and the reference to his government as “BJP-led” instead of a “coalition government”.

There is no need to beat the drum about secularism as it was already in the Constitution, he said, asserting that his government would not deviate from the secular path.

Sonia’s speech last week where she had assailed the government for discriminating against Congress-ruled Rajasthan in providing drought relief came in for criticism, too. Rejecting the charge, Vajpayee said: “We cannot allow political differences to come in the way of giving foodgrains to drought-hit areas.”

Citing figures to show that the Centre had gone the extra mile to help Rajasthan, the Prime Minister said he had announced an initial grant of Rs 50 crore to the state when drought had not even hit it.

The government will raise the limit of issue of foodgrain to 1.5 crore families below the poverty line from 25 kg to 35 kg a month under the Antodaya scheme, Vajpayee added.The Prime Minister rejected Sonia’s charge that his government was using terrorism as a pretext to polarise society and termed the allegation “unfortunate”. “There are hundred ways of doing politics but to bring the issue of terrorism in this manner is wrong,” he said. “Ultimately, the people will decide the way they did in Himachal Pradesh and before that in Gujarat.”

Vajpayee also countered Sonia’s description of the central coalition as a BJP-led government. “It is a coalition government and not a BJP-led government as was stated by the leader of the Opposition,” he said. It is a coalition government comprising several parties and “it is functioning smoothly and will serve its full term”.

Earlier, Vajpayee made a faux pas by referring to the chairman of the Rajya Sabha as “adhyakshji” (President) but was immediately corrected.

The error occurred when he made an apparent reference to Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat getting a cramp in his leg while reading out the Hindi version of the 24-page, 70-minute-long President’s address.

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