CORRUPTION DEBATE ON ANNIERSARY DAY

From Jal Khambata

NEW DELHI: The ruling BJP's charade of all weaknesses of a
coalition but no corruption charges against anybody in the
Vajpayee Government stands shattered.

Right on the day of celebrations of the Government's first
anniversary on March 16, the nation will also witness Finance
Minister Yashwant Sinha stand in the box in the Lok Sabha facing
corruption charges that were levelled against him by his
economic advisor and BJP colleague Mohan Guruswamy after the
latter was summarily dismissed last month.

And, a day later it will be the turn of Defence Minister George
Fernandes defending himself in the Lok Sabha against the serious
charges of corruption in arms deal levelled against him by the
sacked Naval chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat.

The Government found it impossible to push under carpet the
charges flung at the two ministers as it reluctantly agreed on
Thursday to let the Lok Sabha better discuss them just before
Parliament proceeds on a 4-week recess.

CONG SCALE-DOWN: The Congress also appeared scaling down from
its earlier demand for nothing short of a Joint Parliamentary
Committee (JPC) probe into the charges of corruption against
George Fernandes as it settled for a discussion in the House and
that too under a rule which does not provide for any voting.

Congress chief whip Prof. J. Kurien, however, sought to stress
that the Congress would press for the JPC but it does not want
the decision by a vote. "We want the government itself to accept
JPC in view of the seriousness of the charges," he said.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister P Rangarajan Kumarmangalam
asserted at the BJP Press briefing that the Government had
nothing to hide and hence it chose to clear the clouds through a
discussion in the House instead of keep the sword of suspicion
hanging on its head by letting a Joint Parliamentary Committee
probe the allegations of corruption.

BJP spokesman M Venkaiya Naidu asserted that the Opposition was
envious of the Vajpayee Government's successes and survival
despite all odds and hence it was racking up such bogus issues.
He also announced the BJP was going ahead with a week-long
celebrations of the Vajpayee Government's first anniversary
through public meetings all over the country from March 19. BJP
President Kushabhau Thakre will start celebrations from
Hyderabad that day.

RAJYA SABHA ROCKED: The Opposition blocked the Rajya Sabha
proceedings and forced adjournment wanting an immediate
discussion, after the question hour, on the sacking of Admiral
Bhagwat for alleging corruption by Fernandes.

The pandemonium even drowned Prime Minister Atal Bihari
Vajpayee's pleadings to put all papers before leaders in the
Chairman's chamber to understand the national security risk in
debating such a sensitive matter in the open House.

The Rajya Sabha scenes, however, made the Government relent to
agree for a discussion in the Lok Sabha when Speaker GMC
Balayogi convened a meeting of leaders of parties in his House
to prevent a similar blockade.

The Opposition leaders, in turn, agreed at the meeting to
separate the two issues of dismissal of Admiral Bhagwat and the
corruption charges levelled by him against Fernandes. 

COMMITTEE ON SACK: While the second will form basis of
discussion in the House on March 17, the meeting left it up to a
small committee of leaders, comprising all former Prime
Ministers, former Defence Ministers and important parties'
leaders to be constituted by the Speaker, in consultation with
the Rajya Sabha Chairman, to examine all papers to be produced
by the Government on Admiral Bhagwat's dismissal and decide
whether and in what form it should be discussed.

If the Committee decides before March 17, the dismissal will
also become an issue in the discussion on corruption charges
against George Fernandes to be discussed under the House rule
193 which requires the government's reply but no voting.

However, as Kurien stressed while briefing reporters after the
Lok Sabha business advisory committee meeting that decided the
discussion dates, dismissal of Admiral Bhagwat and charges of
deals by George Fernandes with the arms dealers are interlinked
and hence references to the dismissal were bound to come during
the discussion.

NO PROOF: An interesting admission, however, fell from Prof.
Kurien that his party does not have any first hand information
about corruption of the two Union Ministers when asked about the
kind of information the Congress possesses to fix them through
the debate it has forced.  "We got all information only from
newspapers about the charges; we have no other source," he said.

The Prime Minister had earlier shown the Bhagwat papers to two
Congress leaders from the Rajya Sabha -- Dr Manmohan Singh and
Pranab Mukherjee, but Prof. Kurien and party spokesman Ajit Jogi
insisted that they had not given any commitment on not raising
the issue in the Rajya Sabha. The Government had sought to
spread the word after showing the papers to them that they had
realised the grave risk to the country's defence in discussing
the matter in the House.

BOGUS VOTE: Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha witnessed 20 minutes of
noisy scenes during the zero hour when Congress deputy leader P
Shiv Shankar objected to "reprehensible" leaks in a slanging
match going on in the Defence Forces to counter Admiral
Bhagwat's alleagations even when the Government had agreed to
let the Lok Sabha Speaker decide the manner in which it should
be discussed in the House.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ram Naik, however,
hit back at Shiv Shanka for his "highly reprehensible" statement
when the chair had already convened a meeting to sort out the
issue. He also seized the opportunity to plead with the Speaker
to give his ruling on the forgery of a vote that was cast in the
name of Abdul Ghani Khan Chaudhari of the Congress on the day of
the voting on the Bihar's President Rule on February 26.

Naik was only giving voice to the furore created by the ruling
benches which he was unable to stop despite his best efforts
over Shiv Shankar talking about corruption but forgetting the
corruption of bogus voting right in the House by one of its
members. Let the guilty be punished, Naik pleaded.  END.
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