Tuesday, Aug 06, 2002
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By Our New Delhi Bureau
As soon as Parliament met, the Opposition members vociferously demanded the resignation of the Petroleum Minister, Ram Naik, and an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation both of which have so far been stoutly resisted by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. Mockingly raising the slogan, `Jai Shri Ram Naik', the Opposition MPs entered the well of the Lok Sabha and refused to be pacified by the Government offer of a statement from Mr. Naik. In fact, a determined Opposition also spurned the offer of a meeting of leaders to discuss the issue.
It seems that the BJP sensed that there would be trouble even before the Houses met, and a series of meetings were held before and after the adjournment of Parliament one in the room of the Deputy Prime Minister, L. K. Advani, and the last at the Prime Minister's chamber in Parliament House.
While some Cabinet Ministers defended the allotments saying these were "perfectly legal" (giving a petrol pump to the relative of a BJP MP or party worker was not a crime, they were not Pakistanis or ISI agents, ran the argument), those who favoured the immediate cancellation of all the allotments finally won the day. Mr. Vajpayee then directed Mr. Naik to "initiate steps'' to "cancel all allotments made with effect from January 2000.'' The only exception was with respect to those made to the families of Kargil martyrs. A press note to the effect was issued.
The meetings were attended by the key Cabinet Ministers Ram Naik, Sushma Swaraj, Jaswant Singh, Arun Jaitley, Arun Shourie and Pramod Mahajan and the BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, and the party spokesperson, V. K. Malhotra.
Mr. Shourie and Mr. Singh favoured the immediate cancellation of allotments, while Mr. Naik maintained that the process was "legal'' and "transparent.'' Mr. Malhotra later claimed that the BJP had cancelled the allotments because it was "a party with a difference'' and was on "high moral ground" (naitikta ka ucch sthal) and not because of wrong-doing. And, there was no question of Mr. Naik resigning.
The cancellation may not spell the end of BJP's troubles, for the Congress MP, Kapil Sibal, claimed that he had a "cassette'' and that the "revealing transcript'' would be released tomorrow (to establish how the petrol pump allotment deals were made). The scandal was "worth'' Rs. 2,500 crores, he claimed.
Trouble began in both the Houses as soon as they met. While the Rajya Sabha was adjourned within 10 minutes without transacting any business, the Lok Sabha Speaker, Manohar Joshi, tried to conduct business amid the din for half-an-hour before calling it a day in view of the unrelenting mood of the Opposition.
In the Lok Sabha, the Opposition shouted slogans such as "gali-gali mein shor hai, BJP chor hai" (the word is out, the BJP is a thief), "we want resignation'' and "BJP ne kya kiya: desh ko barbad kiya/desh ko loot liya" (what has the BJP done? It has destroyed the country/it has robbed the country).
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