The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fernandes fatigue catches up with Cong

New Delhi, July 25: The moment George Fernandes stands up in Parliament, the Congress and most other Opposition members walk out. It has been a familiar sight in both Houses for quite some time.

But the Congress now feels that the George boycott has outlived its utility.

Privately, party leaders are candid about the need to resolve the 18-month deadlock. The party is talking the language of flexibility and exploring an honourable way to end the impasse. The flexibility was evident last Monday itself when the monsoon session got underway. Not only did the party make the first move to end the boycott but it did so with a watered-down notice for a discussion on Tehelka.

The notice submitted in the Rajya Sabha by party chief whip Suresh Pachauri left out any reference to Fernandes by name. “This House takes serious note of the slow progress in the inquiry of Tehelka tapes and failure of the government in taking action against persons figuring in the tapes and urges upon the government to take effective steps to accelerate inquiry,” Pachauri’s draft motion for an Upper House discussion to end the boycott stated.

Pachauri proposed discussion under a rule that entailed a mandatory voting at the end of debate. But sources said he was prepared for a discussion under another rule that does not require voting.

That Pachauri’s draft is drastically different from the party’s earlier rigid stand is clear. An earlier draft motion for discussion in the Lok Sabha, submitted by party chief spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy in March, had stated: “That this House regrets the re-induction of Shri George Fernandes as defence minister and failure of the government to take action against the persons found guilty of corruption in the Tehelka expose.”

Reddy himself is “reworking” his March draft for submitting a fresh notice early next week for discussion in the Lower House, sources said.

Signs of unease within the party over the boycott was evident during the budget session. Defying the party stand, three members put questions and got answers from Fernandes in the Lok Sabha. The party leadership had then wielded the stick.

Despite today’s setback, the party is eager to break the deadlock and confront Fernandes —and thus the government itself — over his ministry’s alleged failures on crucial fronts.

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