MAMATA SPOILS ATAL UNITY SHOW 

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By FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 22.03.02
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New Delhi, March 22 :    New Delhi, March 22:  At the end of a meeting of coalition partners, the National Democratic Alliance sought to project a united front to pass the anti-terror Bill at a joint session of Parliament, but the cracks showed. Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress, which stayed away from the Lok Sabha when the prevention of terrorism Bill came up for debate and voting, said it would not attend the joint sitting on March 26. "We have not participated in the debate on the issue in the Lok Sabha and nothing new has happened after that. Therefore, we will not attend the joint session," Trinamul leader and MP Sudip Bandopadhyay said. The Bill's defeat in the Rajya Sabha yesterday brought the rest of the alliance together, though. Its constituents resolved to have it passed with a "resounding" majority at the joint session. Even the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and National Conference leader, Farooq Abdullah, pledged his party's support for the Bill after his MPs abstained from voting yesterday. The show of solidarity was demonstrated at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his residence. That Vajpayee's strategists were leaving nothing to chance was apparent in their success in adding four new members to the coalition's tally today. At the end of an over-three-hour meeting, NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes said: "The NDA reaffirmed its faith in the common agenda of the NDA, to be implemented with greater vigour under the leadership of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The meeting reasserted that the common agenda is the bulwark of democracy, secularism and political stability in the country." The emphasis on the agenda was evidently a quid pro quo for the allies' backing for the Bill. Parties like Trinamul, Telugu Desam, DMK and the Janata Dal offshoots had pressured Vajpayee not to stray from the agenda. Mamata and Abdullah, who used the strongest language, attacked the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. Mamata's outburst triggered a sharp response from finance minister Yashwant Sinha and Fernandes. Sinha said: "You keep criticising the budget." Mamata was accused of "creating an NDA within the NDA" in reference to a meeting earlier in the day of some of the allies. Parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan and labour minister Sharad Yadav tried to calm them down, but at one point Mamata walked out of the meeting. Abdullah and coal minister Ram Vilas Paswan coaxed her back from an adjacent room where Mamata had parked herself. By the time, however, the discussion on the Bill was over. Later, asked if Trinamul would support the Bill, Fernandes simply said: "It was an NDA decision". Home minister L.K. Advani explained that the anti-terror Ordinance was not used selectively against Muslims in Gujarat, as alleged. Fernandes quoted Advani as saying: "The invocation of Poto in Godhra was made at the instance of the local administration. However, as soon as this came to the knowledge of the home minister, he directed that those arrested in Godhra be booked under the same law as those arrested elsewhere in the state." Advani also assured the meeting that there would no asthi yatra by the VHP with the ashes of the Godhra victims. Key allies - Mamata and Bandopadhyay of Trinamul, Yerran Naidu of TDP, Raghunath Jha (Samata Party), Jainarain Prasad Nishad (Paswan's Lok Janashakti), Ali Mohammed Naik (National Conference) and Sushil Kumar Indora of the INLD - had a separate meeting earlier in the day. The allies authorised Mamata to take up the issue with Vajpayee at the NDA meeting. Bandopadhyay was appointed spokesman for the group that demanded a ban on the asthi yatra. Fernandes and Mahajan went to work on some of the coalition partners. Mahajan knocked on the door of Desam chief N. Chandrababu Naidu for support for the anti-terror law. Naidu reiterated his party's backing. Mahajan complained about Yerran Naidu attending the allies' meeting today. "He (Chandrababu Naidu) told me that he did not authorise Yerran Naidu," sources said quoting Mahajan.