|Atal (top), Sonia: Would-be neighbours'
New Delhi, Aug. 23: Rivals by choice, neighbours by chance'
So seems to be the destiny of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi — at least in Parliament. The two leaders can occupy room numbers 4 and 5 on the ground floor, if they choose to do so and the Telugu Desam obliges. Rooms on the ground floor are usually reserved for major parties.
While the Janata Dal (United) now occupies No. 4 and the Telugu Desam Party No. 5, their strengths in the Lok Sabha have dwindled to seven and five MPs. While the Desam had nearly 30 MPs in the earlier Lok Sabha, the strength of the undivided Janata Dal was 45.
In the current Lok Sabha, the other big parties after the Congress and the BJP are the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the DMK.
The Samajwadi Party, which has 38 MPs, does not want to shift from its third-floor room — No. 130 — because it believes the room is lucky for it. The Lok Sabha secretariat had offered it a bigger accommodation on the ground floor, but the party said it was not going anywhere.
Vajpayee today inspected room No. 4. Accompanied by Jaswant Singh, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj and Nitish Kumar, the former Prime Minister walked into the shabbily kept room reluctantly after a meeting with National Democratic Alliance leaders in room No. 45. He appeared grim and not too happy to occupy the “Janata” room.
The NDA chairperson’s first question was “if there was an attached loo”. “It is exactly like the room given to L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh,” Sushma replied. When Vajpayee said his only concern was whether it had an attached toilet, Sushma kept saying: “Just das kadam (10 steps)” away.
The parliamentary affairs ministry and the Lok Sabha secretariat have been on the lookout for suitable rooms for Vajpayee and Sonia, the chairpersons of the opposition NDA and the ruling United Progressive Alliance.
The secretariat had allotted room No. 45 for Vajpayee. But as he would have had to walk quite a distance to the nearest exit gate, the BJP brass opted for room No. 4. This room is adjacent to the BJP’s parliamentary party office in room No. 2. (There is no room No. 3.) There is a also gate nearby, said party chief whip V.K. Malhotra. “(But) We have not taken a final decision,” he added.
Nitish said the BJP had swapped rooms with the Dal (U), which would move into 45. Asked if the Dal (U) had any problem shifting to No. 45, the former railway minister said his party had agreed to exchange the room for Vajpayee.
However, the Desam is yet to move out. Asked why they were not shifting, party leader C. Ramachandraiah said though they have got a notice from the House secretariat, they were yet to find a suitable accommodation.
Congress sources refused to confirm whether their party chief would move to room No. 5 once the Desam vacates it. “We do not know about the availability of accommodation. We are yet to hear from the LS secretariat and the parliamentary affairs ministry,” said a source.
Secretariat sources said the Congress had sought a suitable room for Sonia.