The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cloud hangs on Joshi as lawyers spot hurdle

New Delhi, Sept. 24: Murli Manohar Joshi’s fate hung in balance as his legal advisers were reportedly of the view that a review appeal against the Rae Bareli court verdict on Ayodhya may not be entertained.

It would then not be easy for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to reject Joshi’s resignation from the council of ministers, believe sources close to the human resources development minister.

The special court had ruled on September 19 that charges would be framed against Joshi and six others in the Babri demolition case while exonerating deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

Joshi had a 90-minute dinner meeting with RSS leader K.S. Sudarshan today. The RSS had sought to distance itself from the controversy yesterday.

VHP working chief Ashok Singhal also called on Joshi to discuss the legal nitty-gritty and neither looked “hopeful” of an immediate reprieve, said sources.

This would not impact Singhal as he does not hold a constitutional office. However, BJP sources were of the view that it would not be easy for Vajpayee to hold on to him in the cabinet as Joshi would have to appear in court when charges are framed on October 10. He would also have to face the Opposition fury in the winter session of Parliament.

The BJP envisaged a scenario of the Congress, the Left and the Rashtriya Janata Dal baying for the government’s blood and demanding to know how an accused in a criminal case could hold a public post. The continuing boycott of defence minister George Fernandes after the Tehelka expose on alleged corruption in defence deals was cited as an example of the Opposition embarrassing the ruling coalition.

Vajpayee had brazened out the Fernandes controversy by reinducting him because of the defence minister’s “usefulness” as a trouble-shooter in the NDA and for his personal equation with Mamata Banerjee and MDMK leader Vaiko.

However, sources pointed out that the Prime Minister would have to “seriously” weigh the pros and cons of having Joshi around and consider if it was “worth” forcing a parliamentary impasse because of him. The question exercising the BJP’s mind was if Joshi was as “indispensable” as Fernandes.

BJP sources claimed that despite Joshi’s supposed proximity to the Prime Minister, Vajpayee never went against the party “tide”.

“If the party president and his office-bearers felt Joshi would be more useful outside the government, the Prime Minister could go along with the view in a true consensual spirit,” they said.

They recalled that though Vajpayee’s political instinct was to prevail on chief minister Narendra Modi to resign at the height of the Gujarat violence, he “appreciated” the “pro-Modi sentiments” expressed in the BJP’s Goa national executive.

The “official” BJP, comprising M. Venkaiah Naidu and his men, made it plain that it was miffed with Joshi for “jumping the gun” and offering to quit a day before the verdict because it seemed like a move to checkmate Advani and appropriate the Ayodhya turf.

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