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June 21, 1999
Opposition battles govt for fruits of Operation Vijay
George Iype in New Delhi
Even as the Kargil crisis continues, a war is on between the caretaker Bharatiya Janata Party government and the Opposition.
President K R Narayanan, the supreme commander of the armed forces, is under tremendous pressure as Opposition parties have demanded that the government consult them on every crucial decision.
In the past three weeks, various Opposition parties led by the Congress and members of the dissolved Lok Sabha met the President demanding that the caretaker Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime not be allowed to act independently on Kargil. A defeated government, they claimed, does not have any accountability.
Prime Minister Vajpayee, Home Minister L K Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes and the three chiefs of the armed forces regularly meet the President to apprise him on Kargil.
But the Congress and other Opposition groups fear that in the event of the Indian forces successfully evicting the Pakistani intruders from Kargil, the credit and political mileage would go entirely to the BJP on the eve of the Lok Sabha election.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other leaders have been attacking the government, but praising the army to ensure that the BJP does not walk away with a triumph on Kargil.
What has upset the Congress is the informal deadline of two months that the government has set for flushing out the intruders. The talk in the political circles is that after the success in Kargil, a triumphant Vajpayee will address the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day.
"That would mean that the BJP would win the Lok Sabha election. The crisis in Kargil erupted because of the Vajpayee government's failure. Therefore, we have told the President that any government decision on Kargil should be collective," a Congress official, who requested anonymity, told rediff.com
He said the Congress does not want to politicise the issue. "But our argument is that there should be a consensus on Kargil because the Vajpayee government has been defeated on the floor of the House," the official said.
Thus, the Congress and various other Opposition groups have approached the President with proposals to ensure that they also have their say on Kargil.
Official sources in Rashtrapathi Bhavan said there are at least three proposals that the President is now examining: the formation of a national government; setting up an apex all-party committee on Kargil with the prime minister as chairperson; and convening an emergency session of the Rajya Sabha to discuss Kargil and national security.
Opposition leaders have also pointed out to the President that during the India-China war in October-November 1962, the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had set up a National Defence Council with security experts and political leaders from all parties as members.
But Narayanan is yet to begin any formal consultations on the issue as he feels that he need not personally intervene on the Kargil conflict till it does not escalate into a full-fledged war.
As such, the Constitution does not prevent a caretaker government from taking crucial decisions concerning national security and external aggression. Therefore, the President is said to be not in a mind to ask the prime minister to broaden the powers of the caretaker government.
Moreover, as the commander of the armed forces, the President is regularly being briefed on Kargil.
Vajpayee and the BJP leadership have assured that the government is taking utmost care in managing the operation. While the prime minister officially briefs the Opposition leaders at least once a week on Operation Vijay, the apex National Security Advisory Board has met once to discuss the situation.
Therefore it is unlikely that the Opposition demand will be entertained by the President -- at least not for the time being.
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