New Delhi, Aug. 14: The Congress has exercised the ultimate parliamentary weapon available to get Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to explain on the Lok Sabha floor its allegations of irregularities in defence purchases during the Kargil conflict and reinduction of George Fernandes as defence minister.
This afternoon, the leader of the Opposition, Sonia Gandhi, submitted to Speaker Manohar Joshi a notice of no-confidence against the Vajpayee ministry. Since a notice of no-confidence takes precedence over all other business, it will be taken up when the House assembles next on Monday.
However, some pressing government business pending before the House will be cleared first. The business advisory committee of the House has decided to hold the debate on the no-confidence motion on Monday and Tuesday.
This will be the first no-trust motion against the Vajpayee-led NDA government since it assumed office on October 13, 1999, and, indeed, will be the first the Prime Minister will be facing as, on the two earlier occasions — in May 1996 and April 1999 — he had only sought a confidence vote. In 1996, he had left the House to tender his resignation without seeking the vote and in 1999, he lost it by one vote.
“It is the ultimate parliamentary weapon available to us to force a discussion that has agitated the Opposition in both Houses of Parliament for the last few days,” Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy said, announcing Sonia’s move against the government.
Although it will be a “one-line no-confidence motion” against the government, Reddy dropped enough hints that the focus of the attack will be on Fernandes and some of the controversial defence purchase deals of his ministry. “The scope of the motion is extensive. But the immediate background of the developments in Parliament over the past few days will obviously dominate.”
However, party sources said they did not expect to get enough support to carry the motion through. “But we will surely expose the government on the defence and security fronts.”
The principal Opposition party’s move was apparently discussed at a meeting of its political affairs committee two days ago as a section of the leaders was keen that a way out should be found to end the government-Opposition deadlock over the Public Accounts Committee’s controversial report on Operation Vijay, the Kargil war.
Sources said the no-trust option figured at a meeting of the floor leaders of various parties which the Speaker called this morning. Whereas the Congress has been insisting on a debate on the PAC report and the Fernandes boycott and a reply by Vajpayee, the government has been consistently maintaining that the response would come only from the defence minister.
But at the meeting today, a minister is believed to have put a poser to the Congress: “If you are so insistent on getting the Prime Minister to reply, why not then move a no-confidence motion'” That eventually turned out to be the method to try and end the deadlock, though the CPM was initially not impressed. In between, the House adjourned thrice during the day over the issue before the Opposition allowed private members’ business in the afternoon. The next development was Sonia’s tabling of the no-trust move.
While the Prime Minister will reply to the debate, the Congress also acknowledged that “Fernandes will have a right to intervene in the debate as a member of the House”. Whether this will result in the end of Fernandes’ boycott, which has been on ever since his return to the cabinet after his resignation in the wake of the Tehelka revelations, was not clear.