The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Speaker finds a BJP backer

New Delhi, Dec. 17: One presiding officer of a House of Parliament today showed his solidarity with another of the other House, cutting across party lines.

Rajya Sabha chairperson Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, one of the seniormost leaders of the BJP, supported Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee's desire to quit his post following the BJP's charge of 'dictatorship' against him.

'I fully support you. What you said is absolutely right. It is becoming increasingly difficult to run the House,' said the Vice-President.

The BJP leader added that he, too, would quit along with Chatterjee, of the CPM, if the latter ever did so.

Annoyed by the Opposition accusation of 'tanashahi (dictatorship)', Chatterjee had said in a statement yesterday: 'If members are not happy with the present incumbent, I shall have no regrets in leaving it (the post of Speaker).'

Shekhawat's observation, in complete contrast to his party colleagues' stand on the floor of the House, astonished Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, home minister Shivraj Patil and parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

They were all present in the Parliament complex this morning for the unveiling of a statue of freedom fighter Durga Mallah by the Vice-President, sources said.

Shekhawat, the sources said, is fed up with the unbecoming behaviour of his party members in the Rajya Sabha.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, too, came out in support of Chatterjee, saying the Opposition had full faith in the Speaker and the charge of dictatorship was not levelled against him.

'We did not say anything against the Speaker. We were only discussing dictatorship of the government. We have full faith in the Speaker,' the former Prime Minister said outside Parliament after the morning session. Vajpayee had been combative in the House for the last two days.

Asked if he did not feel bad that the Speaker offered to resign because of what the Opposition leaders had said, Vajpayee said: 'I don't want to get into it. The Speaker has said a lot of things about us but did not say anything about railway minister Laloo Prasad (Yadav).'

The Opposition had insisted on a statement by the minister in the House on Tuesday's train accident in Punjab.

Some of the BJP's allies, too, distanced themselves from it on the 'dictatorship' issue, considerably easing the tension brewing between Chatterjee and the party.

A section of the BJP was in a mood for confrontation, but the Telugu Desam Party and the Janata Dal (United) did not approve of it. The BJP brass had planned a National Democratic Alliance meeting today to discuss 'how to conduct (business) in the House and the Speaker's observation'. It was postponed to Monday.

Desam parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu said: 'We must have respect for the chair always. Some times heated exchanges occur in a parliamentary democracy, parties should not be oversensitive. The relationship between the Speaker and the MPs are that of a master and students.''

Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar refused to endorse the BJP line. Asked for his reaction to BJP-Speaker exchanges, Kumar said ''I will not say anything. One should not say anything against the chair.''

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