| Laloo Prasad drinks lassi in a kulhar at Rail Bhavan on Monday. Picture by Jagdish Yadav
New Delhi, July 5: When Laloo Prasad Yadav rises to unveil the railway budget tomorrow, the country will know not only what lies ahead for train passengers but also whether two of India’s most respected politicians can prevent the derailment of a parliamentary convention.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today spoke to his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee in a bid to avert an Opposition boycott of the presentation of the railway budget over the “tainted ministers” stand-off.
The extraordinary exercise — which also saw the Prime Minister making a renewed appeal to L.K. Advani — did not yield any blanket assurance. But Singh remained optimistic of a rapprochement, failing which a budget will be presented for the first time amid an Opposition boycott.
“I spoke this morning to Vajpayee and Advani and repeated my request that regardless of our differences, we should let Parliament function and all these issues can be discussed,” the Prime Minister told reporters in the evening.
Asked what their response was, Singh said: “Hopefully, it should be resolved by tomorrow. But let us see, we will know.”
The ruling United Progressive Alliance said it would neither remove the “tainted ministers” — Laloo Prasad tops the Opposition blacklist — nor apologise for sacking four governors on “ideological” grounds — another issue that has polarised the House further.
The coalition seems to be banking on the Prime Minister’s persuasive powers and signs of differences within the Opposition alliance to break the impasse. The UPA’s strongest bet for a truce appears to be the goodwill Singh enjoys across the political spectrum and the reputation of Vajpayee, now the chairperson of the Opposition NDA, as a defender of parliamentary propriety.
The Prime Minister had spoken to Opposition leader Advani on Saturday. But the conversation did not have much impact and the Opposition today forced an adjournment of Parliament after the Rajya Sabha swearing-in was over.
Referring to Singh’s fresh initiative, Congress sources said that while Vajpayee’s tone with Singh was “conciliatory” — despite the former Prime Minister’s sharp condemnation of the governors’ sack — Advani indicated that the government’s action left “little or no scope” for reconciliation.
But the BJP came under pressure from some of the other NDA constituents to find a “face-saver”. A meeting of the NDA this morning to finalise its approach was inconclusive. Another meeting will take place tomorrow morning. Sources said three allies —the Shiv Sena, the Akali Dal and the Telugu Desam Party — privately voiced reservations about the proposed boycott.
“Boycott serves no purpose. We want to participate in the discussions and point out the possible lacunae in the railway budget,” a Desam MP said.
The Janata Dal (United) is the only constituent which backed the BJP to the hilt because of the Laloo Prasad factor and its impact on Bihar politics.
NDA sources said the probable strategy could be to walk out when Laloo Prasad presents his budget and boycott the speeches and submissions made by the “tainted” ministers during the entire session.